Vittorio de Sabata conducts the Verdi Requiem and other works – Naxos Historical

by | Oct 21, 2006 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

VERDI: Messa da Requiem; Prelude to Aida; La Traviata: Preludes to Act I and Act III; I vespri siciliani–Overture; WOLF-FERRARI: I Quattro rusteghi–Intermezzo, Act 2; Il segretto di Susanna–Overture; ROSSINI: William Tell Overture; RESPIGHI: The Fountains of Rome – Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, soprano/ Oralia Dominguez, mezzo-soprano/ Giuseppe Di Stefano, tenor/ Cesare Siepi, bass/ Chorus and Orchestra of La Scala, Milan /Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (Aida)/ Orchestra Stabile Dell‚Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Rome/ Vittorio de Sabata

Naxos 8.111049-50 (2 CDs) 73:39, 79:13 ****:

This superlative reading of the Verdi Manzoni Requiem (18-27 June 1954) brings back several fond memories, not the least of which is my having met, during an appearance of conductor Aldo Ceccato with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Ceccato’s wife, the daughter of eminent conductor Victor de Sabata (1892-1967). Happily, I had the presence of mind to bring with me my favorite version of Debussy’s Jeux led by de Sabata (RCA LM 1057), which his daughter signed for me, exclaiming that this was among her father’s treasured performances.

De Sabata made few commercial recordings, so we must be grateful for a work on the scale of the Verdi Requiem, which reveals so much of the conductor’s intensely dramatic, if not Herculean nature, insisting on climaxes which threaten to rain down the Furies of Heaven and Hell. The naturally operatic elements of the music, its edgy sense of mortality, appeal to the inflamed sensibilities De Sabata brought to every score he led. A palpable morbidezza infiltrates many passages, as in the bassoon work of the Quid sum miser, in which the late Elizabeth Schwarzkopf intones with magisterial melancholy. She and Di Stefano soar in the Rex tremendae, realized with towering intensity. Giuseppe Di Stefano, who would collaborate with De Sabata on the paragon of Tosca recordings, is in strong, shimmering voice, both in duet and in his plaintive Ingemisco, which betrays no vocal strain, despite the vocal leaps and sustained notes demanded of him. Siepi, too, rules in his alternately threatening and lyrically plaintive enunciations in the Confutatis maledictis. The reverberant strings contribute as much to Siepi’s grand line as his own noble vocal arch. The return to the dreadful Dies Irae cascading scales and tympani rolls has all of the moral cataclysm of the Holocaust, whose own horrors were still fresh at the time of the recording. Oralia Dominguez has her own lights in the opening of the Lachrymosa in stunning duet with Siepi with the male chorus below. She strikes harrowing sparks with her Libera me as well. The intensity almost becomes overbearing, so relentless is De Sabata’s grip on this music as it proceeds in the fevered quartet. The shattering resonance of the recording has been immaculately restored by Mark Obert-Thorn, a golden harp string even in his impressive library of triumphs.

The Offertorio sears your ears with mystical reverence, the incense translucent and transfiguring. Di Stefano’s Hostias is pure Heaven, rivaled only by Simoneau’s intonation of the Berlioz Sanctus in Vienna under Mitropoulos for the Furtwaengler memorial. The Sanctus has no less than Handelian fervor, the contrapuntal lines inflamed. The opening a cappella for the Agnus Dei wafts incandescent, other-worldly. The Lux aeterna, opening with Schwarzkopf’s plaint and then Siepi’s rich intoning of the Requiem, might well stand as a fitting tribute to Schwarzkopf’s great art. The bass tones supplied by De Sabata’s La Scala Orchestra ground this vision in the desert, a true moment of prophecy. The quartet cannot decide if it is stringency or agonizing sweetness that will reign, the affects so closely bound together. Another descent into the Abyss followed by Schwarzkopf’s exquisitely eerie high coloratura for the Requiem aeternam. The concluding fugue for the Libera me convinces me that De Sabata specialized in controlled hysteria – life’s fitful fever.

The remainder of disc 2 embraces recordings made 1939-1948, including the Aida Prelude that German Heliodor issued as part of extended sessions De Sabata had in Berlin. The 1947-1948 recordings from Teatro Argentina, Rome emanate that pristine string sound we hear in De Sabata’s equally fine contemporaries Mitropoulos and Toscanini, with the vertical acumen we admire in Furtwaengler. Delicately and tragically poised, the Traviata Preludes weep without cloying sentimentality. The sense of menace pervading I vespri siciliani makes this recording equal, if not preferable, to Toscanini’s version. The gentle, spirited humor in De Sabata’s renditions of Wolf-Ferrari is deliciously Neapolitan. Rossini’s ubiquitous William Tell Overture begins with subdued, magisterial sobriety, only to erupt into a storm worthy of Beethoven – strings and horns suffering paroxysms. The tenderly lyrical episode yields to the famous gallop, and a thunderous ride it is. The Fountains of Rome (23-24 January 1947) provided the flip side of RCA LM 1057, which I presented to De Sabata’s daughter for discussion. Incandescently, lovingly rendered, the music acquires that special glow we hear when Beecham performs Delius, transparent and evocative in all parts. For collectors and connoisseurs alike, this fine set captures the art of Vittorio de Sabata with particular vigor.

— Gary Lemco

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