Verdi
Messa da Requiem
Rossini
Overtures:
Il barbiere di Siviglia
La scala di seta
Guillaume Tell
La gazza ladra
L’italiana in Algeri
La Cenerentola
Galina Visnevskaya (soprano), Nina Osakova (mezzo-soprano), Vladimir Ivanovsky (tenor) & Ivan Petrov (bass)
State Academy Chorus
Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra
Igor Markevitch [Verdi]

Orchestre National de l’ORTF
Igor Markevitch [Rossini]

Verdi recorded in Moscow in 1960; Rossini recorded 1-4 April 1957 in Maison de la Mutualité, Paris
CD No: ICA CLASSICS
ICAC 5068 (2 CDs)
Duration: 2 hours 16 minutes
Reviewed: September 2012
The great Igor Markevitch (1912-83) started out as a composer (he was a pupil of Nadia Boulanger) but turned to conducting full-time from 1942 and made his career in post-war Europe. He was not strongly associated with opera, but you wouldn’t know it from this supremely unbuttoned performance of Verdi’s Requiem, recorded live (and not to be confused with a commercial recording made later) at a concert in Moscow in 1960, when his fame as a conductor was at its highest.
This is very definitely an operatic performance – contrasts are exaggerated, dynamics are extreme, and tempos veer from stately to wild. The four soloists are high-Soviet Bolshoi artists – their Latin diction is mangled in caricaturable Russian style (most notably by Ivan Petrov) and phrasing and vocal gestures are freighted with emphasis. Galina Vishnevskaya apart, trills and other decorations are on the effortful side – yet the overall result is magnificent, integrated and secure.
Nina Isakova carries the all-important ‘Dies irae’ sequence superbly well with her rich, focussed singing; surprisingly she is rather sparing with portamento in places where you would expect it. With a voice the quality of Vladimir Ivanovsky’s, it’s a pity that his career didn’t go much beyond the USSR. He nails his ‘Kyrie’ entry in grand style and gives lamentation its Italianate due in a memorably sung ‘Ingemisco’. Petrov is at the top of his considerable rich form, giving ‘Mors stupebit’ a Godunov-like nihilism (the bass drum sound here has a weird gong-like resonance), and, unlike Isakova, the use of portamento is very much part of his vocal baggage, as are scoops up to the note at the start of virtually every phrase.
Vishnevskaya fans will treasure her performance here. She was 34 (and had been married to Rostropovich for five years) and her voice had an astonishing purity and agility. She had been singing Aida a lot around this time, and of the four soloists her singing is the most Verdian – although you can almost see her signature fiery, up-front presence at the declamatory start of the ‘Libera me’. She delivers all the soprano’s special moments, including a sublime and satisfying pianissimo for her ‘Requi-top C-em’. The well-drilled USSR Chorus is loud or soft and nimble (the ‘Sanctus’ is seriously energised), and once you get past the Russian-inflected woodwinds (in marked contrast to the ORTF players in the Rossini pieces), the orchestral sound is full of colour, the performance full of drama.
Markevitch luxuriates in all the detail of Verdi’s vast canvas, and the result is thrilling and totally engaged. He conducts the Rossini overtures (also in mono) with clarity, wit and individuality, drawing a disciplined response from the ORTF musicians in a spacious but clear acoustic. With similarly sensitive re-mastering, the brilliance and character of the Moscow Verdi performance comes through strongly. ICA has done it again.

 

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