Karl Forster

Verdi: Requiem; Rossini: Stabat Mater

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This budget two-disc set, combining a 1994 British recording of Verdi's Requiem mass with a 1960 Rossini Stabat Mater, might seem to be one of those random bargain-bin releases that does nothing but degrade the value of concert music. In the event, however, the two performances hang together in interesting ways, and while no one would pick these as reference recordings, they are well executed and far from dull. The Rossini work, with an outsized Choir of St. Hedwig's Cathedral, a quartet of fine soloists including a delectable Pilar Lorengar, and the already startlingly sheen-y Berlin Philharmonic, is a pure piece of economic-miracle luxury, not especially giving Rossini's operatic tunes the lightness they need (sample CD 2, track 6, the "Cujus animam gementem" tenor solo, for a good example of the flavor of the whole) but making up for that in sheer surface beauty. The 1960 sound is remarkably smooth, and there's really no issue of contrast in sound environment as you go from Verdi to Rossini in the middle of CD 2. The Verdi Requiem, with Owain Arwel Hughes leading the Royal Philharmonic, Royal Choral Society, and Brighton Festival Chorus, is one of those British readings that somehow threatens to turn the big Dies irae into a Gilbert and Sullivan choral number, but elsewhere it has a deliberate approach with lots of detail. The big choral groups are remarkably well held together, and soprano soloist Elizabeth Connell is in fine, dignified form. An offbeat budget release that's actually worth the price.

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