In the main we are broadly in agreement once more, although I have noticed our preferences tend to effect our priorities in the end, perhaps best exemplified by your inclusion of the Mehta in your shortlist of the stereo recordings - I agree that the soloists are a very fine bunch, but feel the overall impact of the recording is less than it could have been because of the rather "ordinary" direction from the podium. I also note that the older I get, my ears are caught by real daring from the podium, which may have gone some way to explaining my earlier comments on Celibidache and Markevitch.
With the latter, I had to chuckle at your conclusion ! Don't forget that the ICA recording captures the live performances made around the same time of a studio one on Philips (currently only available from Japan at super-high prices), but as you would expect, a/b comparisons reveal the usual plusses and minuses, the extra electricity of a live performance needing to be offset by the compromised sound and occasional flawed ensemble, not least on the part of the soloists. Still, I agree with you with regards to those basses and the daring from the podium, which means, for me, makes it a must-have for my collection, if not for the desert island.
I have similar feelings towards the Fricsay recordings. I only have the DG releases and agree with your views on the soloists, none of which really come close to my ideal, although I note what you are saying with regards to Dominguez. I was particularly disappointed with Kim Borg - he is the Scarpia on a surprisingly good German-language Tosca with Konya and Horst Stein; he was very good in that, so had higher hopes for him here than he delivers. However, the live recording is a keeper for me due to the intensity from the podium - there is very little Italianate fire, but it is replaced by something more dark and brooding; this recording has my favourite Lux Aeterna, where either by design or recording quirk, the bass drum rolls ominously and the whole thing seems to have the shadow of Death itself upon it, which may have been the case with the mortally ill conductor.
Of course, we all need at least one Toscanini recording of this work on our shelves and once more, I'm with you going with the later performances, albeit with a nod towards the patched-up official release on RCA (the live one from La Scala is a non-starter due to its execrable sound, but Tebaldi is absolutely astonishing). When I compared the four Toscanini's in my collection to each other a while back, I was taken by how much "warmer" and relaxed he was in his approach pre-war on the BBC and NBC recordings. Either the terrible events of the War, or the thought of the end of his life being ever-nearer, the later readings, to my ears, seem to be more sound and fury, full of fear of Death and the wrath of God, which for some reason I seem to like! I had a very good and knowledgeable friend, sadly recently departed, who had an encyclopeadic knowledge of singers and singing - he was the sort who would camp outside on the pavement overnight at Covent Garden to get a ticket - who venerated the live 1940 account with Milanov. Like yourself, I'm at a loss to understand why and consider Milanov's contribution very poor - but I guess that sums up what is so interesting about reviews and how people's reactions can be so different.
I was put in mind of this with the Giulini recordings. Quite why Gramophone and some reviewers on Amazon so rate the 1963 Royal Albert Hall performance is totally beyond me - the quartet may hae been distinguished in their time, but this music doesn't suit them and Richard Lewis's tenor jars in the same way as Keith Olsen's does on the Plasson. It doesn't have to always be an Italian tenor for this part - Corelli, in his one and only public performance of the work with Mehta proves this, whilst Wunderlich is quite special in the otherwise forgettable Muller-Kray, originally released by DG (expected so much more from the unsteady Gottlob Frick).I'm surprised that none of Giulini's recordings make it anywhere near the top of the pile for me - the best all round (IMO) is the Testament, but the sound there is very poor; the best sounding recording (Berlin/DG) has the worst performance. I'm sad too - the only time I have seen this work performed live was conducted by Giulini, a performance at the Royal Festival Hall with the Philharmonia in the mid to late 1980's. The standout memory of that night was Paata Burchaladze's Mors Stupebit - I'm sure the walls of the RFH shook as a result of the intensity of that remarkable voice !
Karajan could have had a whole "Partial Survey" all to himself ! In addition to the four mentioned in part 1 and the four here, there are countless other live versions - he seemed to have conducted it everywhere and all the time in the last 20 years of his life - in Berlin, Vienna and Salzburg, plus on tour in New York and Japan.Indeed on my shelves there is the famous performances with Caballé in 1976, the last one at the Salzburg Easter Festival in 1989, another live in Japan in 1979, plus a further performance from the Salzburg Summer Festival the following year with the BPO and Freni, Baltsa, Carreras and Raimondi (remarkably, a couple of days later they were all back, this time with the VPO, for Aida !). The last performance is notable for the urgency of the conducting in the opening Requiem and Kyrie, like a coiled spring which is then released with all the sound and fury of the Dies irae and a terrifying Tuba Mirum. I mention this as Richard Osborne's fine biography of the conductor seems to suggest that Karajan often returned to a work where he was unsatisfied with previous results, which was perhaps why after no more than a dozen performances of Mahler's Ninth Symphony, he left the work (and Mahler) alone, as he felt he had nothing more to say. With the Verdi Requiem, he does seem undecided with the opening movement, as you allude to yourself when noting the extra swiftness on the later Berlin performance in comparison to the Vienna PO one a few years earlier, although one should also note the different venues as well that may have played a part too. The last time I compared these two performances, I surprised myself in favouring the earlier one, perhaps only due to my more positive response to Rysanek than yourself. Leontyne Price is of course glorious, almost untouchable on this occasion. But the fallible Rysanek, more fragile and vulnerable moved me very much and (on this occasion), proved to be the deciding factor. I'll change my mind another day of course ! The 1949 account is an example of the Karajan from another era - there is more risk-taking here from the podium than one would later expect from this conductor, albeit not so much as the previous year's performances where Karajan used two sopranos, with Ljuba Welitsch singing the main body of the work and Emmy Loose singing the closing Requiem Aeternam in a gallery far, far away ! Still, I enjoy the singing of Hilde Zadek in the performance we do have (notwithstanding losing her way nmomentarily during the Libera Me) and think Karajan combines so well with Cristoff here that it really makes one regret the two fell out over the conductor's insistence that he sang Don Giovanni for him shortly afterwards and never performed together again.
I really enjoyed reading your views in both surveys, Ralph, so thank you for these monumental efforts ! I have learned about recordings I didn't know about before - the Lombard, Plasson and Bruno Walter (interesting to note Leinsdorf's waspish comments here, not least since Walter's conducting of La Forza at The Met in 1943 showcases some astonishingly tight ensemble in that most unwieldy of works). There are only three recordings (all live) I have that aren't mentioned, so it's only partially "partial" for me - these include a 1939 version from Amsterdam with Schuricht that I cannot remember anything about, so it cannot have been that good; Sinopoli in Dresden, just a couple of months before his death (an autopsy, deadly dull), plus the Maazel recording from Munich, also bizarrely a couple of month's before his death too, but again, nothing special. I also enjoyed having my own views challenged and held up to scrutiny. In the final analysis, with the house ablaze I would be taking (in no particular order) - Karajan/La Scala; Bernstein/LSO; Reiner/VPO; Solti/VPO; Muti/La Scala, with, from the later survey, Toscanini/RCA; de Sabata/EMI and Fricsay/Live DG. If the firemen were a noble bunch, I'd go back for the Markevitch, Celibidache and another Karajan (probably the Rysanek one, on this occasion). But that should be enough for now, as my three favourite Verdi stage works are Rigoletto, Otello and Don Carlos - and there's plenty of those I'd need to rescue from the flames too !
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