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The perils of recordings of live concerts,
This review is from: Verdi: Requiem (LSO/Colin Davis) (Audio CD)
This is my fourth SACD of Verdi's Requiem, in a continuing search for my ideal. The quick review is that it doesn't displace my previous choices.
Sir Colin Davis shapes a dramatic and exciting reading. His overall time of 82'04" compares with Bychkov (Profil) at 80'16" and Harnoncourt (RCA) at 87'43" (all times taken from SACD covers). The LSO and chorus respond admirably, and while the chorus may not be quite as refined as some of the competition, it still impresses with its unanimity, variations of expression and clarity of diction.
I find it difficult to comment in detail on the soloists, due to the recording, of which more later. Christine Brewer (sop) has little difficulty with Verdi's demands and finishes with an affecting Libera Me. Karen Cargill (mezzo) is a new voice to me, and has a rich timbre that to my ears tends towards masculinity in the lower register, but that is my personal taste and does not detract from a committed performance. Stuart Neill (ten) produces some gorgeous soft singing, but tends to harden when under pressure in the high register. John Relyea (bass) suffers least from the recording and produces a consistently fine sound, with a thrilling Mors Stupebit.
As a quartet, the soloists blend well together.
The LSO Live series, in my opinion, has been uneven in recording quality. The best of them that I have bought are Smetana's Ma Vlast and Sibelius' symphonies 1 and 4, which are very much to my taste. When the recordings fail to satisfy me, it is inevitably due to closeness, presumably to exclude audience noise. This one suffers in the same way. Overall, the level is lower than average and needs (according to my amplifier) an extra 2dB to match Bychkov and 3dB to match Harnoncourt. Even with this extra volume, I find the sound constricted and opaque, despite having an acceptable balance. There is rear information, including off-stage trumpets, but there is never a believable ambience. This might have something to do with the Barbican's indifferent reputation, but I suspect it is more to do with close microphones. I have to admit that there are no extraeneous sounds (I had to get rid of Bosch's SACD on Coviello because I could no longer live with the audience noise), but this goes too far in the other direction. A quick listen to Harnoncourt's live recording shows how much better it should be.
The soloists are balanced naturally against the other musicians, that is to say neither spotlit nor submerged. They do however appear to share a common resonance which adds an edginess to the higher voices; hence my reluctance to make detailed comments on their contribution.
So this is a disappointing issue for me, especially since I like Sir Colin Davis's view of the work. My overall choice has to be for Bychkov on SACD, nearly as fine a recording as given to Harnoncourt and with more comfortable tempi. Abbado's EMI DVD still impresses in DTS surround.