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ClassicsOnline Home » MOZART: Requiem in D minor (Tassinari, Tagliavini, De Sabata) (1941)
By Jerome F. Weber
Classic Record Collector
By Richard Gate
The recording is excellent, considering its age, and Ward Marston has done an admirable job of transferring it to CD. …Victor de Sabata was a great conductor and his performance has power, sensitivity and clarity and is beautifully executed. The Italian soloists adapt their style to Mozartian requirements, and the chorus is particularly effective. The excellent acoustics of the basilica add greatly to the ambiance.
Great Conductors: Victor De Sabata
Amidst the tragic events of the Second World War two significant musical anniversaries were celebrated in the year 1941. The first, the fortieth anniversary of Giuseppe Verdi's death, was marked principally in Italy, the second, the 150th anniversary of the death of Mozart, the most brilliant and most European of all the great composers, had perhaps the wider resonance, the potential to bring together, symbolically at least, those divided by the war. Inevitably, of all the many works performed to honour Mozart, the most frequently chosen was his Requiem.
Furtwängler, who very rarely included the work in his concerts, conducted it four times that year, on 5 and 6 December in Vienna (with Maria Reining, Margarete Klose, Georg Hann and the Vienna Philharmonic), and then on 10 and 11 of the same month in Berlin (with Trude Eipperle, Walther Ludwig, Josef Greindl and the Berlin Philharmonic). Bruno Walter, by then in exile in the United States, gave a large-scale performance in November 1941 at Carnegie Hall; the concert was broadcast live and would long remain in the memories of those who heard it. In this anniversary year, then, Mozart's final work was programmed by the world's greatest orchestras and conductors, among them Victor de Sabata, the best-known and most gifted conductor to remain in Italy during the Fascist period (Toscanini had moved to the United States in 1939), who gave two radio broadcasts of the Requiem and made the recorded version on this CD.
The relationship between De Sabata and the orchestras (one based in Turin, the other in Rome) of the Italian broadcasting authority, the EIAR (Ente Italiano Audizioni Radiofoniche), had been formed a few years earlier. In 1934 he had been invited to give some concerts with the Turin orchestra and these were preceded by a number of recording sessions: De Sabata's first. The results of these were issued on the Parlophon-CETRA label (Mossolov's Iron Foundry; two sections of Glazunov's From the Middle Ages, Stravinsky's Feu d'artifice and De Sabata's own Juventus, all available now on Naxos 8.110859).
Although the EIAR orchestras were very good, they were in no position to compete with the better-known and longer-established forces of Vienna, Berlin and London. Nonetheless, between 1936 and 1946 many of the great conductors chose to work with them: Bruno Walter, Willem Mengelberg, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Erich Kleiber, Ernest Ansermet, Igor Markevitch, Fritz Reiner, Carl Schuricht, Eugen Jochum, Issay Dobrowen and Karl Elmendorff were all enthusiastic about their collaborations, however brief, with the orchestras, while a young Herbert von Karajan made some now-famous recordings with them for Polydor-CETRA. The best-known Italian conductors of the day (Vittorio Gui, Gino Marinuzzi, Willy Ferrero, Antonio Guarnieri, Bernardino Molinari and Franco Ferrara) also worked with the orchestras on a regular basis, as did a number of composers keen to conduct their own works (Pietro Mascagni, Riccardo Zandonai, Ildebrando Pizzetti, Ottorino Respighi and Ernest Bloch).
De Sabata worked with the EIAR orchestras again on several occasions: firstly on 1 and 8 March 1935, presenting, in two different programmes, Orefice's Tempio greco; The Ride of the Valkyries and the Good Friday Music from Parsifal; the Prelude to Pizzetti's Lo straniero; Beethoven's Fourth Symphony and Coriolan Overture; Berlioz's Rákóczy March; Franck's Le Chasseur maudit; the Overture to Rossini's La gazza ladra; Martucci's Notturno; Bach's Three Chorales transcribed by Respighi; and Stravinsky's Le Chant du rossignol. A year later, on 13 March, he returned with a third, equally demanding concert (Beethoven's "Eroica", Ghedini's Marinaresca e baccanale, Martucci's Notturno, and the Prelude to Act One of Die Meistersinger).
De Sabata went back to Turin on 29 March 1942 to conduct a concert featuring Brahms's Symphony No.2; Kodály's Háry János Suite; Wagner's Tannhäuser Overture and the Act IV Prelude from Verdi's Traviata. It was, however, the dramatic concert of 20 November that year that marked his farewell to the city: the performance of Beethoven's Missa solemnis (with Alba Anzellotti, Ebe Stignani, Francesco Albanese and Duilio Baronti) was interrupted halfway through by an RAF bombing raid. Audience and performers were evacuated just in time, as the beautiful Teatro di Torino collapsed in flames. Now homeless, the EIAR Orchestra was transferred to Venice, a city given special dispensation during the war because of its inestimable historic and artistic significance. The concert season continued in 1943 at the La Fenice Theatre (under Vittorio Gui and Willy Ferrero) and the orchestra began to record for CETRA again, making a number of significant recordings including Haydn's The Seasons with Gui and Sheherazade with Ferrero.
Two EIAR recordings from this period had particular resonance, abroad as well as in Italy: a performance of Verdi's Requiem of 14 December 1940, and this one of the Mozart Requiem on 5 December 1941 both lived on for years in the memories of those who heard them and in the reviews of the time. In both cases the EIAR did things in style, bringing together its two orchestras and their respective choruses in the grand surroundings of Rome's Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli, its architectural and historical grandeur unfortunately not matched by its acoustics. For contractual reasons, three of the four soloists, Maria Caniglia, Beniamino Gigli, Ebe Stignani and Tancredi Pasero (all four of whom had also performed the Verdi a year earlier), chosen by De Sabata for the concerts and live broadcast, had to be replaced for the CETRA recording (all except Stignani were signed to HMV). Rome's Istituto Luce Archive holds a brief ten-minute film of the concerts, catalogued as Giornale di Guerra No. 204 (these "war journals" were short news-reels shown at cinemas during the interval in the main feature) and entitled Commemorative Ceremony for the 150th Anniversary of the death of Mozart, given at Rome in the Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli. The all-too-short footage clearly shows De Sabata, the soloists and the orchestra, and features a few bars sung by Gigli.
On 5 December, therefore, Ferruccio Tagliavini, Italo Tajo (a remarkable Mozartian), Pia Tassinari and Ebe Stignani recorded the Requiem, this time with no audience. From the EIAR recording information (part of which survives and is held in the Italian broadcasting authority's library in Rome), it appears that the first sessions took place on the 4th, straight after the concert, and it is likely that most of the choral sections were recorded then. The remainder, and the solo sections, were then recorded the following day, once the "new" soloists had arrived.
The records (issued as 78s in February 1942, CETRA SS 1001/1008) were an immediate hit: despite wartime shortages, the number of copies sold for the time was sensational. They were so popular that the Requiem recording was transferred onto LP in the immediate post-war period (FONIT-CETRA LPV 1001 and LPC 55058) and HMV acquired the rights straightaway, issuing a second 78rpm version for the English-speaking market (HMV DB 9541/48).
This was not the only recording of Mozart's Requiem made in 1941 - a Polydor production with Bruno Kittel and his Choir and the Berlin Philharmonic was issued in Germany, but one particularity renders it shockingly obsolete today: Nazi censorship obliged the producers to purge any references to the Jewish roots of Christianity in the original Latin texts. CETRA did nothing so reprehensible, maintaining the sacred nature of the text to be above any such ideologically or racially based editing.
Certain 1960s reissues of De Sabata's Requiem were erroneously dated "Berlin, April 1939" (as can be seen on the reverse of the DGG Heliodor Historisch disc, 88005), thereby causing some confusion. For some time there was thought to have been an earlier recording, but this, unfortunately, was not the case. Listening again to this memorable performance today, we can only lament the loss of other De Sabata concerts that Italian Radio either failed to capture in the first place, or that have since been lost or deleted. His readings of Beethoven's Missa solemnis and Brahms's German Requiem (of which he was one of the greatest interpreters) survive only in the memories of a few elderly radio listeners and in the lines of a few contemporary reviews. This interpretation of the Requiem, so very Italian in nature - sensual and at the same time tragic - will not perhaps please self-appointed Mozart purists, and yet it is irreplaceable evidence of a unique moment in Italian radio history, as well as being one of the brightest gems in the CETRA archive, and one of the most fascinating and moving performances we have on record from Victor de Sabata.
G. Paolo Zeccara
Translation: Susannah Howe
(Special thanks are due to Angelo Scottini for his help and advice with regard to the recorded sources.)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Requiem in D minor, K. 626
Recorded in the Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli alle Terme, Rome
on 4 and 5 December 1941
2-70664, 2-70665, 2-70666, 2-70667 II, 2-70668 II, 2-70669 II, 2-70670, 2-70671 II, 2-70672,
2-70673 II, 2-70674 II, 2-70675 II, 2-70676, 2-70677, 2-70678, 2-70679 II
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MOZART: Requiem in D minor (Tassinari, Tagliavini,...