Verdi: Requiem; Rossini: Overtures / Igor Markevitch

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VERDI Requiem. 1 ROSSINI Overtures 2 Igor Markevitch, cond; Galina Vishnevskaya (sop); Nina Isakova (mez); Vladimir Ivanovsky (ten); Ivan Petrov (bs); St Academic Ch; Moscow PO; 2 ORTF O ICA ICAC 5068 (2 CDs: 136:09) 1 Live: Moscow 1960

Overtures: Il Barbiere di Siviglia. La scala di seta. Guillaume Tell. La gazza ladra. L’Italiana in Algeri. La Cenerentola

“You are dead souls … You no longer have any strength. Your bodies are dead, your voices almost inaudible, your lips immobile. Only a slight breath escapes from the bottom of your chest like a final call.” The words, addressed to the State Academic Chorus, are Igor Markevitch’s, taken from an article in Musical America that was reprinted in the notes to Parliament PLP 154-2, an early LP release of the conductor’s Russian 1961 recording of Verdi’s Requiem. (Oddly, it’s easier and cheaper to find used copies of those LPs than the CD reissue on Japanese Philips.) With the present release, there’s now an alternative: a live performance from 1960, with the same performers, albeit in (decent) monaural sound.

That same article asserted that the performers did not readily understand the work’s religious significance. That strikes me as a Cold War-era fantasy for Western consumption, although I can well believe that the Requiem did not have an extensive performance tradition in the Soviet Union at the time. Certainly, there’s nothing routine about this performance. It has been stated repeatedly that this is an “operatic” performance, and that is true, as long as the opera composer one has in mind is more a Mussorgsky than a Verdi. There is plenty of emotion here, but not a lot of warmth. Galina Vishnevskaya, then in her 20s, seems to grasp what the text is all about. Taken at a panicky tempo, “Tremens factus sum ego, et timeo,” in the final movement, is sung in a hoarse, choked voice that clearly conveys terror and dread. Her closing words are a similarly abject, fear-stricken plea for deliverance from eternal death. Vishnevskaya is not the only one who gets it. In the “Lux aeterna,” Ivan Petrov intones “Requiem aeternam dona eis” with the utmost pathos. The mezzo and the tenor are less perceptive, but there’s no doubt that they have entered into the spirit of the work. Nina Isakova must have been an imposing Amneris, and Vladimir Ivanovsky’s metallic sound predisposed him, I am guessing, to heroic roles. He has the worst time, of all the soloists, with pronunciation—“qui,” for example, is pronounced as “kvi.” The chorus, about 120 strong, doesn’t always produce the most blended sound, but otherwise it sings with discipline and no lack of color. Markevitch, always an intense conductor, does keep the score moving along. For a live performance, there are few problems, although the “Lux aeterna” has some shaky moments. There is applause at the very end. Otherwise, the audience is not bothersome. (I am wondering why ICA Classics put quotation marks around “live” on the booklet cover—is it, or isn’t it?)

To follow the final notes of Verdi’s Requiem with the overture to The Barber of Seville is a bit of a shock, but the justification for this juxtaposition is that Verdi composed the “Libera me” for an ultimately unrealized memorial Mass for Rossini in 1868. The six overtures are not new to CD; I have them in a “Les Introuvables d’Igor Markevitch” set from EMI France. The difference here is that ICA’s transfer has been taken from LP; I guess they did not have access to the master tapes. EMI’s sound is better; it is richer and more three-dimensional. ICA’s is a little too bright, although there is little to alert the listener of the vinyl source per se . Markevitch is not particularly lighthearted here (think Fritz Reiner), although the French orchestra plays these overtures almost daintily … and at times with dubious intonation! (This is more noticeable in the present release than in the EMI set.)

If you’re particularly interested in Verdi’s Requiem, and don’t have the Parliament LPs, or some variation thereof, then this new release probably will fill a niche for you, even if you were unaware that it needed filling! More casual collectors might want to stick with a more mainstream version; I like Barbirolli’s, Shaw’s, and Karajan’s later effort.

FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: ICAC 5068

  • UPC: 5060244550681

  • Label: ICA Classics

  • Composer: Gioachino Rossini, Giuseppe Verdi

  • Conductor: Igor Markevitch

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: French National Orchestra, Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, Russian State Academy Chorus

  • Performer: Galina Vishnevskaya, Ivan Petrov, Nina Isakova, Vladimir Ivanovsky