Monday, May 21, 2018

Another glorious YouTube Verdi Requiem

Yes, dear reader, I know it's far too easy, but I've found another wonderful YouTube performance of the Verdi Requiem. This is actually not a live performance, but a video created from a 1967 recording under the baton of Georg Solti, with Dame Joan Sutherland, Marilyn Horne, Luciano Pavarotti, Matti Talvela, the Vienna Philharmonic, and the Vienna State Opera Chorus. What's not to like?

All the soloists are in top form. Dame Joan, of course, had all the transcendent qualities in this recording that I mentioned in writing recently of a the 1960 recording. Truly the 1960s were her best decade. The floaty section like Huic ergo in the "Offertorio" and the Requiem aeternam section of "Libera me" were glorious. I can't say whether it's the influence of Mr. Solti or of seven more years of a high-profile career, motherhood, and marriage to Richard Bonynge, but Dame Joan's "Libera me" had more desperation than in the 1960 recording. As it should be! (I hate to say this, but Requiem aeternam section did include some of the droopy, artificially dark sound we associate with Dame Joan once she started listening to people's advice.)

I am not always of one mind about the blessed Marilyn Horne, whose presence has indeed been a great gift to the American opera and vocal music scene. Known for lyric mezzo-soprano roles, the great Miss Horne also sang Wagner and Berg soprano roles in her early career. I always thought her voice lay somewhere in between--low-lying soprano roles and high-lying mezzo roles. One associates the Verdi mezzo role with Amnerises and Azucenas, which was not Miss Horne's forte. But she delivered. Beauty of tone, warmth, expression, and the ability to be heard quite well in ensembles with full orchestra were all present. While her "Liber scriptus" didn't exactly part one's hair, as I have written of other mezzos, one certainly knew it was there! And her "Lux aeterna" was beautiful.

Luciano Pavarotti. What can one say? Again, in his prime, again with a sunny voice that imparts optimism and joy. This was the same year as the first Verdi Requiem I wrote of. The man could sing. No doubt about it. He could float the Hostias section of "Offertorium" and also deliver a powerful and sensitive "Ingemisco".

Matti Talvela. First, his Mors stubebit was absolutely in tune! Everything else was icing on the cake! He was powerful, passionate, and sensitive, delivering exactly what one expects of a true bass singing this role. (I have heard bass-baritones and been disappointed often.) Mr. Talvela is the bass soloist on another recording I plan to feature, and I will write more about him then, but suffice it to say that I have no complaints whatsoever about this performance.

Of course the chorus and orchestra were amazing. World-class ensembles tend to be. We heard from Mr. Solti the well-shaped phrases we love, and the control and precision, especially in contrapuntal sections, that sometimes eludes other conductors. Again, I often only notice conductors if something goes awry. This conductor earned my indifference, if that makes sense. I knew he was in control and I had nothing to worry about. This was a great performance.

Now that's what I call singing!

I have two Verdi Requiem recordings on CD beside me that I will get to, but Friday and Saturday I had the pleasure of listening to a recording I had downloaded and forgotten about. This was a 1960 recording under Carlo Maria Giulini with Dame Joan Sutherland, Fiorenza Cossotto, Luigi Ottolini, and Ivo Vinco, with the Philharmonia Chorus and Orchestra. What a joyful experience!

Each recording I hear is different in its own ways, but there is a huge amount of tradition holding most of them together. I might think, "Oh, this conductor uses a healthy bit of rubato there," or, "That conductor is doing more to keep the texture and rhythm on point than another one did."  In the end it's nit-picking.  It's hard to ruin the Verdi Requiem for me. (Believe me, people have tried!)

Now we must discuss the soloists, of course.  This was Dame Joan at her best, before she started listening to advice.  Of course she could float a vocal line like no other, and she had the vocal color and weight to hold her own against an orchestra with three other soloists. "Libera me" was heavenly--the tremendous contrasts of mood, the sublime quiet moments, the dramatic moments.

I've rhapsodized about Fiorenza Cossotto in this role before, and she was just as remarkable as expected. I always love a good "Lux aeterna", and Ms. Cossotto never fails to deliver.  I wasn't very familiar with Luigi Ottolini or Ivo Vinco before, but I quite liked them. Mr. Ottolini has the sound, the vocal heft required for this role, as well as the vocal subtlety it also requires.  "Ingemisco" was just what you want from a tenor, and Mr. Vinco's Mors stupebit section was both beautiful and mostly in tune.

Although this is a fantastic recording, this is a brief post, largely because I'm running out of things to say about the Verdi Requiem. I will never, ever tire of the work--of that I can promise you!--but it's hard to be creative. Since I have more an analytical nature, maybe I'll do a comparison spreadsheet when I've done all the recordings I'm going to do.

Friday, May 18, 2018

A retread, but a beautiful retread

For this installment in my Ten Verdi Requiem series (the notion of Ten Days fell by the wayside on day 2, I think!) I point you toward a magical performance I witnessed a few years ago and wrote about. Here is the link to that post. Please read and respond here with comments and questions.

OK, next.....

This will be a shorter post. Perhaps inundating my senses with Verdi Requiem performances isn't such a good thing. Really good performances become just OK and sub-par performances become colossally terrible. Nevertheless, your intrepid reporter has braved yet another Verdi Requiem performance, one of long acquaintance through many long drives (in a car with a much better stereo than that mentioned in my second post of this series), and one that is considered very fine indeed. This is an RCA Gold Seal recording of Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra with Herva Nelli, Fedora Barbieri, Giuseppe di Stefano, and Cesare Siepi, along with the Robert Shaw Chorale. It also features other Verdi choral works and arias. How can one go, "Meh" to that? The performancs are great! I confess I didn't know soprano Herva Nelli, but she was fully the equal of the other three soloists. Mr. Toscanini was with the NBC Orchestra from 1950 to 1954, but the exact year of this recording is not given. Although I didn't hear the precision in the orchestra I heard in the two La Scala recordings I wrote about, it was still a fine performance. I did hear great things from the four soloists. Beyond that, as a reason to buy this CD? With the wealth of audio and video resources out there, this is something to buy only if you're interested in Toscanini or one of the soloists specifically. I'm glad I own this CD collection, but I'm not sure I'd buy it today.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

All's right with the world

I'm back with more Verdi. Had to take some time off after the Eurovision Song Contest. I was totally spent after watching that. This is why I don't go to movies--if a television commercial has me in tears, and a song contest wears me out completely, I just can't bear to invest that much time and emotion in a 90-minute narrative story. I'd want to throw myself off Tower Bridge. (Doing it from the George Washington Bridge is so déclassé!)

Anyway, this is the third Verdi Requiem in this series, and my third medium of enjoying it. First was watching a DVD in my living room. Second was a CD on my crappy car stereo. This time it was a full-length YouTube video with stereo headphones on. Of the three, I don't recommend the crappy car stereo. The stereo headphones offered benefits neither of the other media did--most clearly evidenced in the true stereo effect when the various brass choirs entered in the "Tuba mirum" section.

This was a 2013 La Scala performance, with Daniel Barenboim conducting the chorus and orchestra therefrom and soloists Anja Harteros, Elina Garanča, Jonas Kaufmann, and René Pape, all of whom I've praised in these pages. Once again I praise the chorus and orchestra of La Scala--among the finest examples of either in the world!--and I must say I liked this performance by Mr. Barenboim. I don't often notice a conductor unless he's bad or makes exceptionally wise and sensitive choices. In this case, I loved the dynamic shading and the phrasing. I loved his attention to his singers. The overall performance was quite different from the 1967 La Scala performance conducted by some other dude I wrote of recently. Both are beautiful and completely valid in my book.

Daniel Barenboim in action
Screen grab from YouTube video above
I am in love with Elina Garanča. The first time I saw her was several years ago, singing Angelina in La Cenerentola, and singing it very, very well. She announced that that production was her last coloratura role, and since she has done more serious roles. I've seen her as Charlotte in Werther (I think I have--in any case, I know she's done it lots) and Sara in Roberto Devereux. Always convincing, always spot on vocally. Can she be heard in Verdi quartets? You bet she can! And she sounds great. Her "Lux aeterna" was a shimmering delight.

Elina Garanca, Jonas Kaufmann, René Pape, Daniel Barenboim
Screen grab from the YouTube video above
And I really must say that any woman singer is very brave to wear an off-the-shoulder dress when singing. Remember the crowd--eyes won't be on her boobs, but rather on her throat and shoulders. Not a sign of tension or extraneous movement anywhere! (At this point I must rib all the teachers who advised I use a mirror while practicing, but never once told me what to look for. It was Debbie Crawford, of blessed memory--the teacher I went to after my second graduate school!--who clued me in. Am I pushing my tongue down or is it relaxed? Are my shoulders moving? Is there any movement that shouldn't be there?)

Anja Harteros in a blissful moment from the Libera me
Screen grab from the YouTube video above
Several years ago I wrote that Anja Harteros had delivered the most beautiful Non mi dir I'd ever heard. I still stand by that assertion. I've long been a fan of her singing, and I was glad to hear her interpretation of this fiendishly difficult role. I was not disappointed. Beautiful sound, nuanced delivery, an aura of complete comfort and mastery--what's not to love? I adored the "Agnus Dei"--the movement in which soprano and mezzo sing in parallel octaves. It was spine-tingling. I will try to refrain from comparing performances as I do these Verdi Requiem posts, but let us say that her "Libera me" stands proudly alongside other great performances.

Jonas Kaufmann. Yeah, I guess he's OK.

I kid! He's pretty damn good in this performance, too! I think I this role is quite appropriate for his voice, and his voice for this role. Nowadays we often see lighter tenors singing the Verdi Requiem, and although many do give good performances, overall we want more sound. We want meat. Blood on the floor if necessary. It is Verdi after all! Herr Kaufmann delivered sound and passion and sensitivity we dream of. So what if the trill in the sotto voce sections of the "Offertorio" were a challenge to him? In the end we don't care, and that's what a fine interpretation from a fine singer gives us.

I adore René Pape. I loved him in the Kenneth Branagh Magic Flute film, and I've seen and loved live performances several times as well. The man can do no wrong. (OK, he did fall into the "Mors stupebit" intonation trap, but only a little, and he got himself out of it.) I can say nothing except that this is a very fine, intelligent, sensitive singer. Go ye and hear him at every opportunity!

One might suspect from what I write above that I quite liked this performance. Well, I did. Flawless? No. Is any performance ever flawless? Great? Yes. Moving? Definitely! After the horrors of the second Verdi Requiem I posted about, this was balm for my weary soul. Which needs lots of balm. I have included a link to the actual video so that you can enjoy it, too, and will also include fun screen grabs.