Verdi: Requiem; La forza del destino Overture

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WORKS: Requiem; La forza del destino Overture
PERFORMER: Ilva Ligabue (soprano), Grace Bumbry (mezzo-soprano), Sándor Kónya (tenor), Raffaele Arié (bass); Philharmonia Orchestra & Chorus/ Carlo Maria Giulini
Issued to celebrate Giulini’s 90th birthday, these live recordings are based around the Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus at the height of their reputation. The 1961 Forza del destino Overture is as fine an account as one could wish for, with Giulini supplying noble lyricism and drama without bluster. It is genuinely thrilling. The 1964 Requiem is more mixed. As a live account, there are some minor blemishes, occasionally of ensemble, elsewhere – from the soloists – of intonation. But they’re a quality quartet. Ilva Ligabue can be a touch raw but she’s powerfully expressive, and the young Grace Bumbry delivers healthy, glowing tone. Sándor Kónya’s sizeable tenor, almost baritonal in timbre, has plenty of ring, and Raffaele Arié is regularly distinguished. From their first entry the chorus is arresting, and its combination of weight and definition provides the spirit, as well as the letter, of the score. Overall this is a performance of tremendous stylistic authority, a valuable adjunct to Giulini’s studio recording and his other live version, from the 1963 Proms. But not a replacement for them. The problem here is the mono sound, which is clogged and not always ideally balanced. There are moments when individual parts jut out alarmingly, and overall it is the extremities of the sound-picture that come over best, with some of the central substance of the texture too far recessed. It compromises a performance that nevertheless remains worth hearing. George Hall