VERDI: Messa da Requiem

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Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)
Messa da Requiem
  In an era of great Italian-born or Italy-domiciled conductors who were born in the second half of the nineteenth century, one recalls Pietro Mascagni (1863-1945), Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957), Ettore Panizza (1875-1967), Tullio Serafin (1878-1968), Antonio Guarnieri (1880-1952), Vittorio Gui (1885-1975) and Gabriele Santini (1886-1964). To these must be added the youngest of this group Victor de Sabata (1892-1967). His career was much shorter than any of the above, being curtailed by ill-health at the age of 61. He also made comparatively few commercial recordings, being ill-suited to the process, but his reputation will remain permanently etched into posterity with his unique interpretation of Puccini's Tosca, made in 1953, with Maria Callas, Giuseppe Di Stefano and Tito Gobbi. It continues to remain the yardstick by which all subsequent recordings have to be measured. Born in Trieste on 10 April 1892 and christened Vittorio, Victor de Sabata was the son of a chorus-master of the Teatro alla Scala, Milan. At the age of nine he was enrolled at the Conservatorio Giuseppe Verdi in Milan, studying counterpoint and fugue with Michele Saladino and composition with Giacomo Orefice. He learnt the piano which he would later play with considerable elan in addition to the violin, cello, clarinet, oboe and bassoon, and was also blessed with a remarkable memory. Aged eighteen, he composed a Suite for Orchestra which he submitted for his diploma. In fact it was as a composer that he first came to be known to a wider audience when his opera Il Macigno was first given at La Scala on 30 March 1917. Subsequently revised and renamed Driada for a revival in Turin in 1935, the score was destroyed during the Second World War. This was followed by the symphonic poem Juventus in 1919, a work which both Toscanini and Richard Strauss took up. The piece was felt to combine youthful romantic Italian fervour with lyrical and dramatic episodes in equal measure, together with filtered influences of French and Russian music. The composer himself recorded the work in 1933 [Naxos 8.110859]. Encouraged by Toscanini, de Sabata began a parallel career as composer and conductor, and in 1918 conducted La traviata at the Monte Carlo Opera. Such was his success that he was engaged as an assistant (later principal) conductor the following season, remaining there for a period of twelve years. It was here that he conducted the world premi?â?¿re of Ravel's opera L'enfant et les sortil?â?¿ges in 1925 as well as the first local performances of La Rondine, Sadko, Der Rosenkavalier, Il trittico and Turandot. By 1922 Toscanini intended to engage de Sabata as his assistant in Milan but ultimately felt that their interpretative differences were too marked to allow such a collaboration to flourish. It was in 1927 that de Sabata first visited the United States when he undertook concerts in both New York and Cincinnatti. His long delayed debut at La Scala in Milan took place on 8 February 1930 directing La fanciulla del West and he returned in December the same year for Tristan und Isolde, for which he received great acclaim. During the 1930s de Sabata began to be seen as the house's principal conductor and as such he took the company to Berlin and Vienna in 1937. Two years later he conducted concerts with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and also made a series of recordings with them. He then made his Bayreuth Festival debut directing an outstanding and memorable interpretation of Tristan und Isolde with the French soprano Germaine Lubin as Isolde. In April 1946 de Sabata was engaged by the London Philharmonic Orchestra as the first conductor to visit Britain from a former enemy country. His first rehearsal with the orchestra caused a sensation. He took the players through a blistering reading of Berlioz's Le Carnaval romain Overture in what seemed to those observing a single breath. At the conclusion the musicians en masse stood up and applauded in homage. Examples of his prodigious memory were recalled years later by former players who remembered de Sabata singing the second oboe part accurately and in tune throughout the rehearsal without a note of music in front of him. He was also able to correct errors in well-worn orchestral parts in Beethoven's Eroica and Dvořak's New World Symphonies. His seasons with this London orchestra included memorable cycles of the Beethoven symphonies, an unforgettable concert performance of L'enfant et les sortil?â?¿ges, and on several occasions, incomparably fiery readings of Verdi's Requiem. London was indeed fortunate to enjoy the visits of de Sabata in the years 1946 to 1951. In September 1950 de Sabata brought the La Scala Company to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and conducted blazing performances of Otello and Falstaff, as well as the Requiem, all by Verdi, the like of which had not been heard in that building for many a year. The brilliance, drama, terror and excitement of the opening Storm Scene in Otello almost had the audience cowering in their seats. No wonder it was later said by a member of the audience that "we did everything but put up our umbrellas"! Victor de Sabata returned in the years 1949, 1950, 1952 and 1953 to the United States, where he conducted in Chicago, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Baltimore, St. Louis, Detroit, Los Angeles and San Francisco. A number of off-air recordings survive from these concerts and add to our knowledge and appreciation of the conductor's art. In 1953 he was appointed Artistic Director of La Scala but in November that year suffered a major heart attack that brought about the conclusion of his career. He recovered to the extent that he was able to make the recording of Verdi's Requiem in August 1954. He would appear just once more when he conducted the slow movement of Beethoven's Eroica Symphony on the occasion of the burial ceremony for Arturo Toscanini on 18 February 1957. He then resigned from all his La Scala commitments, as he had by then retired to his home at Santa Margherita Ligure where he died on 11 December 1967. De Sabata made his first recordings in December 1933 for the Italian Cetra label [Naxos 8.110589]. Then followed a series in Berlin for Polydor during April 1939 that included Brahms's Symphony No. 4, Richard Strauss's Tod und Verklarung, Respighi's Feste Romane, Kodaly's Dances of Galanta, the Prelude and Liebestod from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde and the Prelude from Aida (included on this CD). The conductor's only major wartime recording was of Mozart's Requiem in December 1940 for the Cetra label. Following de Sabata's success with the London Philharmonic Orchestra in April 1946, the Decca Record Company undertook the Eroica Symphony, Sibelius's En Saga and Valse triste, Le Carnaval romain and Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries from Die Walk?â??re. EMI, not to be outdone, recorded de Sabata in Rome in January 1947 and February 1948. These sessions brought forth Debussy's Jeux and two of the three Nocturnes (Nuages and F?â?¬tes), Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony (Naxos 8.110859), Respighi's Le fontane di Roma and Debussy's La Mer, together with the various Italian works contained on this CD. Then followed a gap of five years before he made his famous Tosca recording and, finally, the Verdi Requiem. Several reasons lie behind the limited number of recordings made by de Sabata. He disliked the actual process of recording which meant he had
Disc: 1
Messa da Requiem
1 Requiem aeternam
2 Kyrie eleison
3 Sequence: Dies Irae
4 Sequence: Tuba mirum
5 Sequence: Mors stupebit
6 Sequence: Liber scriptus; Dies irae
7 Sequence: Quid sum miser
8 Sequence: Rex tremendae
9 Seqeunce: Recordare
10 Sequence: Ingemisco
11 Sequence: Confutatis maledictis; Dies irae
12 Sequence: Lacrymosa
13 Offertory: Domine Jesu Christe
14 Offertory: Hostias et preces
15 Sanctus
16 Agnus Dei
Disc: 2
Fontane di Roma
1 Lux aeterna
2 Libera me: Libera me
3 Libera me: Dies irae
4 Libera me: Requiem aeternam
5 Libera me: Libera me
6 Aida, Act I: Prelude
7 Act I: Prelude
8 Act III: Prelude
9 I vespri siciliani, Act I: Overture
10 I quattro rusteghi, Act II: Intermezzo
11 Il segreto di Susanna, Act I: Overture
12 Guillaume Tell, Act I: Overture
13 I. La fontana di Valle Giulia all'alba
14 II. La fontana del Tritone al mattino
15 III. La fontana di Trevi al meriggio
16 IV. La fontana di Villa Medici al tramonto
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