LABELS: BBC Legends
WORKS: Messa da requiem; I vespri siciliani Overture
PERFORMER: Amy Shuard, Anne Pashley (soprano), Anna Reynolds, Sybil Michelow (mezzo-soprano), Richard Lewis, David Hughes, Duncan Robertson (tenor), David Ward, William McCue (bass); Philharmonia Orchestra & Chorus, New Philharmonia Orchestra, Scottish Festival Chor
CATALOGUE NO: BBCL 4029-2 ADD
There’s a certain aptness in Giulini’s live performance of the Verdi Requiem coming from the Royal Albert Hall, because it was in that building in 1875 that the work was first heard in its definitive form. Here, Giulini conducts it at a 1963 Prom, before the hanging of the ‘flying saucers’ from the ceiling improved the Hall’s acoustic, so the sound is diffuse and fuzzy, with the grand climaxes tending to dissolve into a euphonious aural soup. Giulini’s studio recording made around the same time is far clearer.
Nevertheless, it has its strengths, with the conductor showing a flexible approach that combines the work’s dramatic and spiritual elements into a convincing whole, though there is some untidiness from the revered Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus. The British soloists (soprano Amy Shuard apart) do not provide tangy Italianate tone, but they are a musicianly team, well up to the demands of Verdi’s writing: much of tenor Richard Lewis’s contribution, in particular, is extremely fine. Also drawing on the great Italian conductor’s nobility of spirit, the Sicilian Vespers Overture (also from a 1963 Prom) is properly solemn in the opening slow section and both fierce and lyrical in the main Allegro.
From the 1968 Edinburgh Festival and the less problematic acoustic of the Usher Hall comes Giulini’s version of Schubert’s last and most imposing Mass, in which he shows the alternate tenderness and strength of the music to good advantage, though there’s a lack of energy at certain points. The soloists are very acceptable. George Hall