Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:


Mia Peltenburg (soprano)
Rosette Anday (mezzo-soprano)
Paul Marion (tenor)
Josef von Manowarda (bass)
Vienna Symphony Orchestra & Singverein, Wilhelm Furtwängler
Live recording, Vienna, November 1927 (incomplete)
FURT NOV 002 One disc, 65'35, Full Price

This review created a great deal of interest but we have to come clean and announce that it was our April Fool 2001.

In Verdi's centenary year we expected something special but it is most surprising it should come from this source. Furtwängler revered Verdi, although he rarely conducted his works in live performance. There are, of course, excerpts and a full performance from the early 1950s of Otello but that is all we have on record - that is until now. This Verdi Requiem may be incomplete (part of the Dies Irae between the Confutatis and the close of the Lacrymosa is missing, as is the entire Sanctus and the opening of the Libera Me) but what remains, albeit in primitive sound, is of scorching intensity.

One is tempted to say that what remains of this performance falls into the same category of 'legendary' status as the De Sabata Tristan excerpts. In both cases we really do hear something entirely special. Listen to how Furtwängler handles the shift between the pianissimo close of the opening Requiem aeternum and the forte opening of the Dies Irae with ear splitting timpani. It is astonishingly powerful. Furtwängler is totally idiomatic in his handling of the counterpoint both here and elsewhere and the harmonies and fanfares are handled with a master's grip of the theatrical.

The Tuba mirum, in Furtwängler's hands, becomes something very colourful indeed - and more than recalls the variegated textures Verdi lavished on his opera Aida and which, coincidentally, Furtwängler conducted with some frequency in his Mannheim years.

 His cast will be largely unfamiliar to all but the most devoted opera buffs of the early part of the twentieth century. All were stalwarts of the Vienna State Opera and here they make for a miraculous quartet - certainly one of the most sublime and heterogeneous this work can have received. Peltenburg, with gorgeous tone, achieves the purest notes above the stave - and a quite thrilling high C in the final bars of the Libera me. Anday matches the purity in Peltenburg's voice - and adds superb coloratura colour to her long part in the Dies Irae. Paul Marion was blessed with a lyrical tenor voice that could sustain the demands of many of the Verdian roles. In the Ingemisco he is fabulously strong of tone.

Josef von Manowarda is also superb where it counts - a bass with a lyrical edge to his voice. Holding this magnetic cast together is Furtwängler -  noble, as he was in Beethoven's Missa Solemnis, in the reflective passages and driven by the furies in his pacing of the more volcanic elements of the Requiem. If any other performance rivals this one's searing drama and sense of struggle I have yet to hear it.

This recording emanates from the vaults of Russian Radio which acquired the tapes after 1945. According to the excellent booklet notes, this, and a number of other performances, were smuggled out of the Soviet Union to Vienna in the early 1980s. For years they lay boxed in a cellar until a recording engineer from a radio station in Vienna found them. The rest, as they say, is history. Part of the reason this recording has only just come to light is the delay it took in verifying the authenticity of the performance. John Ardoin, one the most respected Furtwängler  scholars, did much of the ground work and it is a tragedy he died before hearing this CD.

This CD will primarily be of interest to those looking to complete their Furtwängler discography. For others, it will be of interest to those who want to hear a truly searing account of some of Verdi's greatest writing.

Sîon Montefiore

This disc is available from Novae Records.

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