Verdi: Requiem

Herbert von Karajan

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Verdi: Requiem Review

by James Leonard

Herbert von Karajan's 1949 Salzburg Festival recording of Verdi's Requiem is not the greatest recording of the work ever made; there are, after all, recordings by Toscanini, Giulini, Abbado, and Serafin in that competition. And it's not the greatest recording of the Requiem ever made by Karajan; there are also his two studio recordings of the work from 1972 and 1984 for Deutsche Grammophon. But for those listeners who love the conductor's way with the work, this live recording will likely prove irresistible. When this performance was taped, the 41-year-old Karajan was still smarting after Germany's defeat in the Second World War and his own protracted denazification proceedings, and his anger, pain, and despair are audible. Also, and perhaps more importantly for those who revere the Austrian conductor, his performance shows him to once have been both an impetuous and, some might say, reckless interpreter. The opening Requiem is remarkably hesitant, the following Dies irae is amazingly impulsive, and the closing Libera me is astoundingly dark and pessimistic. With the firm support of the Wiener Philharmoniker and the Singverein der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde Wien, Karajan shapes a performance of nearly continuous gloom. Of the four soloists, soprano Hilde Zadek and Margarete Klose are harrowing, tenor Helge Rosvaenge is perhaps a bit too emotive, and bass Boris Christoff is incredibly impressive. Though Audite's 1949 sound is shallow and edgy, it is still amazingly clear considering its age and origin. Fans of Karajan's smoothly polished recordings of the Requiem will have to try this one.

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