VERDI: Messa da Requiem & works of WAGNER & HAYDN – Chicago Sym./ Fritz REiner – Archipel

by | Oct 27, 2011 | Classical Reissue Reviews

VERDI: Messa da Requiem; WAGNER: Tristan und Isolde: Prelude and Liebestod; Parsifal: Good Friday Music; HAYDN: Symphony No. 104 in D Major “London” – Leonie Rysanek, soprano/ Regina Resnik, mezzo-soprano/ David Lloyd, tenor/ Giorgio Tozzi, bass/ Chicago Symphony Orchestra/ Fritz Reiner – Archipel ARPCD 0521, 2 CDs 72:31; 61:37 ****: 
The indomitable Fritz Reiner (1888-1963) makes spectacular music with his manifold forces for the 1873 Verdi Requiem in Memory of Manzoni (3 April 1958), here in what is likely a broadcast performance, given the occasionally uneven and distant sonics that still do not diminish the often hysterical intensity the rendition achieves. Reiner did go on in 1960 to record a commercial version of the Verdi Requiem in Vienna with stellar soloists Leontyne Price, Rosalind Elias, Jussi Bjoerling, and Giorgio Tozzi.  Of that later cast only Tozzi graces the Chicago performance, but the vocal troupe does not suffer. I have now auditioned the grand Domine, Jesu pie section three times, and the devotional ardor of  the vocal quartet improves with repeated hearings. I assume we thank un-credited Margaret Hillis (1921-1998) for her preparation of the Chicago Symphony Chorus, as resonant and inflamed a vocal ensemble as I have heard in a simply tempestuous realization of the Dies Irae and its various vocal descents into the Abyss. As for the “purely” instrumental forces, just savor the trumpet work (Adolf Herseth), with its triple-tonguing and rocket figures.
Verdi, rather agnostic in his religious views, employed his natural theatrical sense in the organization of his Requiem, a humanistic appreciation of his friend Manzoni’s death in terms of polarized emotions of terror and sympathy. The A Minor opening has Reiner’s forced subdued and introspective, but the furious “hammer blows of fate” (to invoke Mahler’s phrase) from the bass drum and orchestral maelstrom invoke a real confrontation with metaphysical awe and fear of Judgment. Trumpets placed in the far corners and even outside the hall convey the threat of interstellar space. Rysanek must hit high C and Resnik purl her own legato phrases in Verdi’s application of operatic principles to a liturgical context. The vocal writing remains distinctly challenging yet acoustically balanced, often bestowing upon us melodies of visceral power. Tozzi’s bass brings a tortured humanity’s fear of the unknown into the anguished present. The huge arches in the more frenzied passages, piccolo shrieking at the top, quite steal one’s breath away. I recall in an interview with Florence Kopleff her absolute admiration of Reiner’s ability to control large and varied forces in the concert hall or opera pit. This set testifies to her confidence. At the last chord of the Libera me, having followed an aerial Lux aeterna, the audience palpably shouts and weeps in gratitude.
The Tristan excerpts (27 March 1958) project equally dynamic prowess, Wagner conducting of the highest order, on a measured par with those Knappertsbusch and Furtwaengler renderings of the orchestral version of the Prelude and Liebestod that singe one’s erotic soul.  The expansive Prelude, rife with patient color and pregnant pauses, yields to the communion of love and death, and a superheated affair it is. The CSO cello line alone justifies the price of admission. Intensity and utter transparency texture combine to create has to be Liszt’s “dream of love” even in the midst of mortality. The CSO trumpets and divided strings announce the ceremonials for the Good Friday Music from Parsifal, surging upward to the gloriously Technicolor Dresden Amen. Reiner’s diminuendos prove as potent as his eruptive passages. Ray Still’s oboe renders a pure Wagner, chaste and rich at once. The exquisite sonority of the CSO strings reminds us that Reiner’s greatest ambition was to head that American orchestra of the sweetest strings, the Philadelphia.
The performance of the Haydn “London” Symphony certainly arrives as a decided plus in this set, Reiner’s having worked on Symphony No. 101 and No. 95 just prior to his death. He left no commercial record of No. 104, and this performance, despite some distant miking away from the interior woodwinds, leaves us wishing that Reiner had contracted to inscribe a complete set of the late Haydn for posterity. Athletic, robustly spirited, the D Major moves forward with a happy verve and confidence that certify the Archipel claim that this entire set belongs to its “Desert Island Collection” for you Robinson Crusoes of the spirit.
—Gary Lemco

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