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Mortimer H. Frank
Fanfare, September 2010

This performance was one of two given by Lorin Maazel to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of Arturo Toscanini in 1957. The insert notes for this release quote Maazel’s recollection of when, as an 11-year-old in 1941, he led the NBC Symphony Orchestra. Many years later, I had the opportunity to ask Maazel how he felt at the time when put in charge of a world-class orchestra created especially for a celebrated conductor: “It wasn’t a problem,” he said. “I was simply a professional doing my job.” And the insert notes for this release offer Maazel’s recounting how Toscanini “was kind enough to come to my dressing room, take me in his arms, kiss me on my forehead and say, ‘God bless you.’” Certainly in Maazel’s earlier work in Cleveland there were suggestions of a Toscanini influence, suggestions that were subsequently blanketed with mannerisms that crept into his later years in New York with the Philharmonic. In this video release, however, those mannerism are not present in what is a generally fine account of Verdi’s masterpiece. The orchestra is first-rate, and the overall pacing generally well judged. And the glimpse one gets of Maazel makes clear he is not conducting for the camera or the audience, his gestures never extreme, his indications clear, with eyes sharply focused on the performers. The four soloists are uniformly impressive, especially Norma Fantini. Watching her suggests her complete emotional involvement in the music, her changing facial expressions underscoring why this work has sometimes been tagged Verdi’s “greatest opera.”

The major issue in a release of this sort is always a question of how the picture complements or distracts from the music at hand. To be sure, it is free of the overly active, widely roving camerawork that infects some video productions. Moreover some of the images that depart from the musicians and reveal the stunning beauty of the San Marco Basilica are certainly welcome, as are the close-ups of the four soloists. But many moments also exist where one may wish for less visual activity and a more static image of the larger picture. The sound is closely miked for the soloists, in part, I suspect, to mask the hanging resonance of the hall, which becomes apparent in choral sections. Heard over wide-range equipment, it is (occasional imbalances aside) first-rate. In short, for those seeking a video of Verdi’s stupendous score, this release is well worth having. It is prefaced by a four-minute travelogue of Venice set against music from the Requiem’s Sanctus.

Richard Osborne
Gramophone, October 2009

Starkly contrasting performances—one distinctly outshining the other

The St Mark’s film begins with holiday shots of Venice, Verdi’s Sanctus playing mistily in the background. Night falls and an elderly gentleman approaches the basilica looking for all the world like the Grim Reaper. Buffed and burnished for the cameras, he reappears in the basilica itself, where with cairn command he leads a measured, occasionally brilliant, sometimes moving performance of the Requiem.

Lorin Maazel came to Toscanini’s attention at the age of 11 and to De Sabata’s at 23. This Venice performance, staged to mark the 50th anniversary of Toscanini’s death, is closer to De Sabata than to Toscanini, especially in the opening Requiem aetemam (6’30” to the tenor’s entry as opposed to Toscanini’s 4’30”.) So long-drawn a meditation floors the video director, who randomly switches images every few seconds in defiance of the musical line. Things settle when the soloists appear, but the glorious setting continues to be unimaginatively used.

Maazel has chosen as soloists theatre singers on the cusp of international eminence—an embryonic Don Carlo cast, you might say (the Polish bass Rafal Siwek is especially fine). The Florentine chorus is first-rate, as is the recently founded and privately funded Syrnphonica Toscanini, of which Maazel is music director. Despite a slightly distant choral sound in the Sanctus, the recording is generally good.

John Sunier
Audiophile Audition, June 2009

One of the 2007 50th anniversary observances of the death of conductor Toscanini was this spectacular benefit concert which took place in the basilica of St Mark’s in Venice.  The conductor was Maazel, on whom Toscanini had a great impact after the young conductor-to-be had met Toscanini at age 11.

This requiem was a showpiece for Toscanini and is one of the classic two highly operatic/dramatic requiems—the other being the Berlioz. St. Marks was a perfect venue for such a concert since it had premiered the world’s first music especially designed for surround sound/spatial placement of the players.  Other recorded performances have occurred here, such as E. Power Biggs’ organ-based performances—although the highly reflective surfaces of the gold mosaics lining the cathedral don’t necessarily offer the best acoustic environment.

The surroundings are incorporated into the video coverage of the performance and it is often difficult to take one’s eyes off the amazing decor of St Mark’s to concentrate on the music at hand. Those doges were certainly not shy about putting their fabulous wealth on display for all to marvel at. The rich trappings appropriately support the richness of the usually spare requiem form. The performance of the highly operatic requiem is also a marvel, with eloquent singing and playing from all involved. The DTS surround brings the viewer into the impressive venue both aurally and visually.

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5:26:07 AM, 9 October 2015
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