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Stunning dramatic sweep
on 28 October 2010
Although I own more than twenty recordings of the Verdi Requiem and have loved the piece for forty years, ever since I heard Bernstein's TV broadcast from St Paul's (commemorated in what is still a favourite version made with the same forces but recorded in the Albert Hall), for some reason until recently I had avoided acquiring this one. Perhaps I had been put off by untested accusations that Solti's interpretation was all brash theatricality and no vertical sense; perhaps I supposed that Joan Sutherland would be no-one's ideal of a Verdi soprano - but as soon as I finally bought and listened to it, this version leapt to the top of my list alongside three or four favourites including the aforementioned Bernstein on Sony, the famous Reiner recording, the 1952 Toscanini and Karajan's dream-team DVD from 1967(also featuring a young Pavarotti).
Apart from the quality of the sound, the fervour of the chorus and the fact that I think Solti, following Toscanini's model, successfully combines drama with the requisite reverence, the soloists offer an extraordinary combination of qualities: Sutherland's security and amplitude of tone, Horne's magnificent lower register and shining top, Pavarotti's liquid beauty of tone and mesmeric half-voice, and Talvela's rock-solid intonation and resonance; these are all great voices in their prime. Not only that, they combine so well, having sung together quite often by this time. My main criticism centres on pronunciation of the Latin text: I wish Talvela had not employed Germanic Latin; Horne pulls vowels about wilfully; Sutherland, while not as opaque as was sometimes the case, can be indistinct and occasionally falters (as at the start of the "Libera me, domine"); Pavarotti is the only one whose diction shines. But there are many superb moments, such as Sutherland's poised B flats or the thrilling momentum of "Quam olim Abrahae". I found myself swept along by this account - and the spectacular sonics contribute to the excitement of the reading.