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Customer reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars

on 8 November 2012
I too, totally endorse David Bryson's now celebrated review of this great work (September 2005), but would like to add some comments of my own as a supplement, so to speak, in order to recommend it even further to prospective buyers.

David has picked up a point in the notes, namely "it is not necessary to be a practising Catholic...to conduct Verdi's sacred music". However, such a person can lend an additional fervour to this kind of music, and there is no doubt in my mind that Giulini does just this; I believe this is what makes his version the greatest performance ever upon record. As David says, Giulini did other versions, but never quite got it so right again. The amazing contrasts of sound, ranging from the barely audible opening to the climaxes of the Kyrie, the violence of the famous "Dies Irae", and the progress of the "Rex Tremendae" are things which no other conductor quite achieves. The Dies Irae is truly awesome, and frightening: which is what it should be, but there are moments of incredible beauty and serenity in the sequence (tracks 3 - 11).

It's also very exciting! The Sanctus explodes, and the Osanna (track 14)is quite joyful (almost we could be in the Italian camp with Preziosilla in "Forza del Destino"). Finally the "Libera Me" is drama par excellence.

Let's not forget that Verdi is primarly an Opera Composer: lovers of his Operas will find many parallels. All through this work there are extremes of emotion and passion, which we are surely familiar with in his Operatic works: in this respect, I would recommend buyers to Giulini's "Don Carlos", arguably the finest (and uncut) verson of this work, where you will again find a fervour which is in the Requiem. This is, in fact, an Operatic Requiem. If you purchase it, you will be listening to an epic work which covers every facet of human emotion: yes, there are some distortions in the loud passages, as other reviewers have commented on, but the original recording was in 1963 and although there has been some masterly work done, there is surely a limit in a work initially recorded 50 years ago. If you must have a recording with 100% up-to-date sound, that is your decision: however, you will be missing an experience which is unlikely to ever be equalled and I would rather put the performance first. Like David Bryson, I don't have a real problem with the recording.

Whilst I take David's point regarding non-Italian soloists, I wonder if (to use his words) "a lachrymose tone" would, at least to English ears, be perhaps over-doing it? We have here a superb quartet of soloists, and a chorus which has never been rivalled (namely the Philharmonia - see my review of the Klemperer "Missa Solemnis), conducted by a Master, who totally involves himself in the work, who is capable of creating the dynamic contrasts and the sheer physical energy of Verdi's music to its fullest extent, and who invites us to do likewise.

David Bryson has already commented on the bonus of the Four Sacred Pieces with a little touch of Janet Baker in the Night, and I can't improve on what he has said.

If you have never heard this version, or perhaps do not know the work, then your next purchase from Amazon must be assured in being this CD.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 17 July 2014
This is a Requiem for a very public and open space. The famous ‘Dies irae’, with its shattering bass drum beats, seems to be the composer’s attempt to raise the dead and its opening out-surprises Haydn.

This famous recording of the work, conducted by Giulini [1914-2005], with Schwarzkopf [1915-2006], Ludwig [b. 1928], Gedda [b. 1925] and Ghiaurov [1929-2004] appeared in 1964 with the other work, Four Sacred Pieces, with Janet Baker [b. 1933] as soloist, was recorded in 1963. Giulini conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus [Chorus Master, Wilhelm Pitz, 1897-1973, perhaps best known for his work at Bayreuth]. The digital remastering is from 1997. The same forces performed this work in Parma in October 1963 to inaugurate the 150th anniversary of the composer’s birth and this recording was made in London only days before.

I have never been a great fan of Schwarzkopf but here she gains from her extensive experience of shading in lieder and completes a magnificent quartet, all singing at the peak of their powers. Pitz’s singers are marvelously operatic. Overall, Giulini knows the work intimately and the ferocity of the ‘Dies irae’ and the final ‘Libera me’ take one’s breath away as, at the other extreme, does Gedda’s reverential singing in ‘Ingemisco’. Giulini also balances the orchestral and choral forces with those of his soloists, all of whom appear sensitive to the work’s compassion.

The booklet contains English/German/French texts of both works, an essay on ‘Giulini conducts Verdi’ by Richard Osborne, 2001, [this is mostly about Verdi’s religious works] and photographs of the conductor, Requiem soloists and the producer, Walter Legge.

Toscanini’s visceral performance from 1951 is generally cited as one of the greatest historic recordings but is rather too driven for me. Two favourite recordings from the early 1950s, by Fricsay, 1953, and de Sabata, 1954, differ widely in tempo [the work lasting 75 and 95 minutes, respectively; Giulini’s is almost exactly midway between these two extremes, 86 minutes]. Each of the three conductors convinces me of the overall architecture of their vision.

The Four Sacred Pieces, with Baker, is no simple filler. The meditative ‘Laudi alla Vergine’ and quietude of the ‘Stabat Mater’ blend with Baker’s golden tones, evidence of her great experience in opera and oratorio. There is nothing in the notes to support this performance.

This is one of EMI’s Great Recordings of the Century and justifiably so. Recommended, 9/10.
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on 10 August 2013
Sometimes size is mistaken for significance. I certainly bought this double CD for the magnificent Requiem by Verdi in this fine,compassionate, dramatic performance with Carlo Maria Giulini, the Philharmonia Orchestra and the very special Philharmonia Chorus under the Chorus Master, Wilhelm Pitz and with incredible soloists - Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, Christa Ludwig, Nicolai Gedda and Nicolai Ghiaurov. But I want to also fully applaud the other four sacred pieces. How remarkable they are! There is a lovely Ave Maria, only six minutes long for unaccompanied choir in four parts and using an unusual scale. Verdi may have regarded this piece as little more than an exercise but it is lovely and I often return to it. Another aspect of the sacred world is revealed in a setting in Italian of verses from Canto XXXIII of the Paradiso, the hundredth and final canto of Dante's Commedìa. This sound world is very different - requiring the use of high voices in four parts singing a capella, in this case supplied by sopranos and altos of the Philharmonia Chorus. What ethereal beauty! A very different experience is Verdi's Stabat Mater, centered on the key of G minor - mourning fully entered into. The Stabat Mater provides for a mixed choir (soprano, alto, tenor and bass) and a large orchestra with 3 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets. 4 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 4 trombones, percussion (timpani, bass drum), harp and strings. It is a powerful and dramatic setting of the sacred text with a wide range of dynamics. Verdi's own favorite seems to have been his Te Deum for double chorus and orchestra- one of his last works. Verdi is usually described as an atheist or agnostic. What I wonder is how he could produce such eloquent, majestic music for something that he had little or no belief in. I find this work deeply moving and immensely exciting. I love these works as expressed here.
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VINE VOICETOP 500 REVIEWERon 12 September 2005
This set can be recommended from two points of view. Firstly it contains all Verdi's mature choral works; and in the second place this account of the Requiem is perhaps the greatest ever recorded. After the Requiem came Otello and Faslstaff, and last of all he gave us the Four Sacred Pieces. Two of these are for unaccompanied voices, one in particular featuring an allegedly special scale, which I doubt we would be aware of if we had not been told. They are only described as 'academic' or as 'exercises' because they are by Verdi, who put up a smokescreen of self-ascribed simplicity all his career. In fact he had always studied and loved the mediaeval Italian polyphonists and these two compositions can easily rank with similar works by Brahms in my opinion. In Brahms or Bach we take the academic element for granted as all part of the style, which is entirely in the German tradition. Verdi was almost as exclusively based in his own country's music - all he took from German music was features of style that Italy had given to Germany in the first place, and we hear him at that with the explicit reference to Schubert's A minor quartet at the start of the Requiem. However there is more unaccompanied vocal work in his Requiem than in anything in the German choral/orchestral repertory, and that should not surprise us.
There is a slightly average liner-note that assures us solemnly that 'it is not necessary to be a practising Catholic...to conduct Verdi's sacred music'. I guess that lets Toscanini off the hook, and I don't think Giulini's performance of the Te Deum is quite the equal of his. However in the Requiem Giulini seems to me to surpass everyone I've ever heard, Toscanini among them. There is not an Italian among the soloists, and when I listen to, say, Schwarzkopf's exquisite falling phrase at 'Salva me' I still experience a slight longing to hear it dragged down in a lachrymose Italian tone, but they have too much integrity for cheap compromises, they are simply terrific in their own right, and Giulini supplies the Italian element. His sense for this great score seems to me perfect. He understands Verdi's alternations of fierce and almost brutal power with relaxed lyricism. Verdi's energy is physical, not nervous like Beethoven's. He is always powerful but rarely or never tense. The soloists do not miss a trick either. The monstrous demands of first climax of the Kyrie, with the soprano required to dominate her colleagues, choir and orchestra flat-out, are achieved grandly, and at the other extreme they are sublime in all their solos, and the great phrase at Tantus labor non sit cassus is wringing with emotion but perfectly under control. The Philharmonia chorus of the day (1963) was probably the best in the world, and the orchestra probably likewise. At full tilt in the Dies irae, with the spotlight on the brass at Tuba mirum, the cellos climbing above the treble clef at the start of the Offertorium, the celestial bassoon obbligato in the Quid sum miser - everything is just right and more.
For me Verdi's Requiem is the greatest choral masterpiece since Handel himself, and his Te Deum for me surpasses Berlioz and Bruckner and is indeed the finest setting since Handel's own mighty production celebrating the ludicrous victory at Dettingen. Giulini is excellent by any standard, but I still miss the incomparable surge and thrust that Toscanini brought to it. However there is a startling bonus here in the form of a solo of a few bars right at the end from Janet Baker no less. I wonder what that cost -- the spot is normally given to a member of the chorus. The Stabat Mater is powerful and affecting, and the chorus perform superbly on their own in the other two works. The recording is not awfully 'forward' and it doesn't always treat Ghiaurov very well, but otherwise I must say my Sony equipment coped perfectly adequately, and it was a relief to be rid of the surface swish and pre-echo at points on my LP set.
I checked the text and translation of the Dies irae and the Stabat Mater, and the standard was a lot better than I have been encountering lately on other productions. There are two minor misprints in the Stabat Mater ('corni' for 'cordi' and 'pagis' for 'plagis'). 'Fac me crucem inebriari' is not Latin, and we can be pretty sure the text ought to be '...cruce...', with this line and the next meaning literally 'Make me drunk with the cross and with the blood of the Son'. Otherwise my only comment is that the stanza 'To stand with thee...' should be governed by the verb 'I desire'. I lack the discernment of the liner-note author who finds the stanzas of varying literary merit.
Giulini did at least one later version, but I never yet heard one to equal this, from him or from anyone. I have no real difficulty with the recording, and I greatly hope you do not either.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 8 March 2012
I could not improve on the excellent review by David Bryson so I won't try. My only additions are that on my setup some of the louder passages have an amount of distortion. The levels between the quietest and loudest parts means I found it tricky to get a comfortable volume level that allowed me to listen comfortably without occasionally having to adjust the volume. Of course this could just be my system and you may find that this recording plays OK on your system.
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on 28 November 2005
David Bryson's excellent review describes this wonderful performance with an expertise that I don't possess, thank you David.
However, he doesn't mention the awful distortion in the loud passages, which spoils the enjoyment of the otherwise masterful Dies Irae and obliges the listener to keep the volume control low (and even then I find myself cringing in my armchair!).
Such a shame that the engineers at Abbey Road couldn't overcome this when remastering; one has to presume they tried. Certainly the poweful dynamics involved would have presented a terrific challenge to the original recording engineers, but even so...
I'll have to shop around for another version, inevitably less exciting in performance, but with an audio quality worthy of this great work. Such a pity.
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on 9 August 2011
This is a marvellous recording. Maestro Giulini is giving us every line, every detail, every dynamic in this sublime music. He is altogether true to Verdi's indications.
The soloists are following the same intentions. Schwartzkopf and Ludwig have sung so much together that they can exactly balance their voices against each other. Gedda hasn't the biggest voice, but his absolute loyalty to the music creates something very strong. (Just listen to his Ingemisco.) And Ghiaurov is a bass with a warm voice that he uses almost effortlessly. His can go from the weakest pianissomo to a full forte in the same line.
Orchestra and chorus - superb!!!
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on 22 May 2012
This is a superb recording of this magnificent work by Verdi and lives up to all the comments made by the music world reviewers.
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