Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Quattro pezzi sacri (Four Sacred Pieces) (1888-98) [38:45]
Ave Maria for soprano and strings (1880) [5:25]
Libera me for soprano, chorus and orchestra (1869) [12:32]
Donika Mataj (soprano), Maria Agresta (soprano),
Orchestra e Coro dell Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia/Sir Antonio
rec. 13-15 October 2012 (4 Sacred Pieces), 30 May 2013 (Libera Me),
30 May 2013 (Ave Maria), Auditorium Parco della Musica, Sala Santa Cecilia,
WARNER CLASSICS 9845242 [56:55]
In the year of Verdi’s bicentenary Sir Antonio
Pappano has followed up his excellent 2009 Rome recording of the Messa
da Requiem with this new Warner Classics release. London-born and
of Italian parentage Sir Antonio has been Music Director of the Accademia
Nazionale di Santa Cecilia since 2005 and clearly has a special affinity
with Verdi’s music. At the time of writing this review Pappano
and these Santa Cecilia Rome forces are performing this very programme
at the Royal Albert Hall as part of the BBC Proms 2013.
Verdi’s Four Sacred Pieces were composed at separate times
and not intended as a group. They were actually premièred as
three Sacred Pieces in 1898 at Paris. As the composer was less
confident of the quality of the Ave Maria it was dropped. However,
it was premièred later that year in Vienna. The four panels of
the Four Sacred Pieces can be summarised as follows:
i. Ave Maria on an ‘enigmatic scale’ harmonised for
four-part mixed chorus a-cappella, in Latin.
ii. Stabat Mater for four-part mixed chorus and large orchestra,
iii. Laudi alla Vergine Maria (text taken from Canto XXXIII of
the Paradiso from Dante’s Commedìa) for four-part
women’s chorus a-cappella, in Italian.
iv. Te Deum for double mixed chorus and large orchestra, in Latin.
I have collected several excellent accounts of the Four Sacred Pieces
all worthy of interest:
i. The Berliner Philharmoniker and the Ernst Senff Chamber Choir/Carlo
Maria Giulini, recorded live in 1990, Philharmonie, Berlin on Sony.
ii. Using period instruments from London in 1992 the Orchestre Révolutionnaire
et Romantique and the Monteverdi Choir/Gardiner on Philips.
iii. The Berliner Philharmoniker and the Swedish Radio Choir and Stockholm
Chamber Choir/Riccardo Muti recorded live in 1982 from the Philharmonie,
Berlin on EMI.
iv. The 2010 account from the Orchestra and Chorus of Teatro Regio,
Torino under Gianandrea Noseda on Chandos.
v. I find the most satisfying of all the accounts is that from Carlo
Maria Giulini with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus on EMI Classics.
Produced by Walter Legge, that performance was recorded in 1962 at the
Kingsway Hall, London. My current copy is a wonderful sounding 2010
reissue on the EMI Masters series ‘Great Classical Recordings’.
The coupling is Giulini’s justly famous 1963/64 Kingsway Hall
account of the Messa da Requiem (EMI Classics 6 31821 2).
The Ave Maria for soprano and strings from 1880 is one of Verdi’s
least familiar works. It is said to resemble in temperament Desdemona’s
prayer Ave Maria fromOtello. To mark Rossini’s death
in Paris in 1868 Verdi suggested that the finest composers in Italy
should unite to write a work in honour of Rossini. A scheme was hatched
that each composer would collaborate gratis and contribute part
of a Messa per Rossini to be performed once only at Bologna on
the first anniversary of Rossini’s death. Initial performance
preparations were put in place, however, the collaborative project experienced
various difficulties and never came to fruition. Verdi’s contribution
was the closing section the Libera me cast for soprano solo,
four-part mixed chorus and orchestra. Verdi later reused the Libera
me for his great Messa da Requiem with a few alterations
necessary to ensure a good fit. Here Pappano uses the original version
of the Libera me.
Sir Antonio Pappano, his soloists and the Orchestra e Coro dell Accademia
Nazionale di Santa Cecilia are on spellbinding form with the present
disc. In the Ave Maria the a cappella singing has
a tender reverential quality that borders on the mystical. Dark foreboding
suffuses the powerful Stabat Mater, the sorrowful hymn of the
Mother of Christ standing grieving beside the cross. The climaxes are
stunning. The female a cappella chorus in the Laudi alla Vergine
Maria produce meltingly beautiful singing without losing that imperative
reverential sensibility. Commencing with an enchanting unaccompanied
chorus, the substantial Te Deum contains much captivating singing
from soprano Donika Mataj. Once again the vocal and orchestral climaxes
are remarkable and add both heartfelt impact and reverential awe. In
the tender Ave Maria for soprano and strings, soloist Maria Agresta
makes a telling contribution especially through her profound expressive
reading, her radiance and her evident dedication. Agresta is suitably
dramatic and highly moving in the Libera me and the overall effect
is quite remarkable. Verdi’s magnificent music builds in weight
from 7:03 and the thundering climax at 10:58-11:21 is both breathtaking
and spiritually inspiring. Recorded in the Auditorium Parco della Musica,
the sound quality, containing a wider dynamic range than I prefer, requires
considerable volume control tweaking. Once the level has been adjusted
the sound is clear and well balanced.
This is an intensely cohesive and deeply reverential performance high
in sacred drama. It makes for thrilling listening. Pappano rivals the
evergreen account from Giulini on EMI Classics.
Details of the Quattro pezzi sacri
i. Ave Maria (1888) [5:05];
ii. Stabat Mater (1896) [12:29];
iii. Laudi alla Vergine Maria (1893) [5:40];
iv. Te Deum (1898) [15:31]