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Süddeutsche Zeitung, München - performance date April 13, 1976


The great evening: Verdi's dead mass Requiem under Karajan

Requiem under Karajan

English Translation © Maria Kozlova

Verdi's "Messa da Requiem" under Karajan: an experience of technical brilliance and expressiveness. Looking back at the former performances of old monumental dead masses at the Salzburg Festival, one can say Karajan now represents the unique tradition created by Arturo Toscanini, Victor de Sabata and Dmitri Mitropulos. One can also say that he combined in himself the characteristics of each of his great predecessors who conducted Verdi's Requiem: enormous dramatic tension and artistic vividness of both Italians and all-absorbing passion of the Greek.


After Karajan releases the crushing blows of "Dies irae", when triplets in the choir recitation become a rhythmical symbol of earthquake opening the graves, and when the wood-wind and trumpets tune up after the falling chromatic sixteenths of the strings, one can hear "weeping and gnashing of teeth" and see the despair of those who fear damnation, like on frescos of the Last Judgement by Luca Signorelli in the cathedral of Orvieto. And probably an even more powerful effect than the terrible vision created by Verdi's dramatic imagination is that of the bass solo "Mors stupebit" interrupted by intermittent "heartbeats" of the strings and the big drum. Who wouldn't this shake to the bottom of the heart?


Karajan together with the Berliner Philarmoniker and the Music Lovers society choir of Vienna (great compliments to their leader Helmut Froschauer) not only impresses the listeners with frightful visions inspired by murals of the Italian Campi Santi. He breathes wonderful new life into the Requiem's inner sound image, that of petition and prayer, hope and despair, without terrible phantoms, sensibly models it through the choir, and differentiates it in the accompaniment of the soloists' ensemble (example: cellos in the "Offertorio"). Then the Sanctus fugue rushes by like a waterfall of faith and trust. It is the only piece of pointed authenticity. Karajan puts it up as a thrilling alla breve monument.


The performance that will be repeated on Good Friday became the culmination of the Easter Festival also thanks to the soloists' quartette. The four voices one could hear at the Great Festival Hall seemed to be made for this unique combination of high expressiveness and perfect singing standards, of belcanto and spirituality required here. Montserrat Caballe's ethereal soprano, Fiorenza Cossotto's alto sounding like steel (both voices wonderfully blended in octave in Agnus Dei), brilliant, flexible and capable of hushed pianissimo tenor of Jose Carreras (about this young Spaniard we will surely hear again more than once), and the rich profound bass of Jose van Dam.

An inappropriate outburst of applause after the final Libera me was at first prevented from spreading, but it gathered strength for a while and broke loose again. After an hour and a half of strained attention one bid farewell of the great Festival evening.  

K. H. Ruppel