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Requiem, IGV 24: V: Sequence. Liber scriptus · Orchestra del Teatro Reale dell'Opera di Roma · Tullio Serafin · Ebe Stignani
Messa da Requiem(G.Verdi) Liber Scriptus Conductor: Herbert von Karajan 1984

Liber scriptus (feat. Zinka Milanov, Bruna Castagna, Jussi Bjorling, Nicola Moscona, Westminster Choir, NBC Symphony Orchestra) · Arturo Toscanini · Zinka Milanov · Bruna Castagna · Jussi Bjorling · Nicola Moscona · Westminster Choir · NBC Symphony Orchestra · Giuseppe Verdi · Giuseppe Verdi
 

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The two venerable ones, Serafin 1939, Toscanini 1940 are, of course, in monophonic sound and show their age. The Karajan, being from 1984, the Digital Age, is of a different category, though not without its problems: reverberant and raw, but the voice, Agnes Baltsa, with her often biting tone, holds her own against the two veteran and puissant mezzos, Stignani for Serafin and Castagna for Toscanini.

Of the three singers, Stignani has the best material, a voice of large proportions, rich, beautiful, free at the top and bottom, and used with artistry if a bit stolid. She has no trouble delving into her chest register and letting loose her top.
Castagna, for Toscanini, sounds closely recorded; the voice is a lesser instrument than Stignani’s, but no less artistically used, though she indulges in aspirates when the vocal line gets difficult. The top is less free and used with caution when a fff seems indicated. The video cuts off before she is finished.

Baltsa, for Karajan, is the equal of the two veterans but with a slender voice, capable of plunging into her chest along with the best and not shirk up top, with plenty of power, though she is more distantly recorded. The voice is compact, but can cut through the orchestra easily.

A difficult choice, but I think I can cut Castagna first, which leaves two very different voices. I need to ponder before voting.
 

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Ever since I heard Ebe's 'o mio Fernando' in the early days of our contests I've been absolutely obsessed for two reasons. Firstly my best friend's name is Fernando and I get to sing it to him with my Ebe voice while we laugh like little kids, but more importantly because this voice is absolutely sensational to me, and I find it to be so here as well. Stignani has a spot reserved on the short list of singers who make me want to jump up and sing.
 

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This is between Stignani and Baltsa, with Stignani having the more imposing instrument and Baltsa delivering a touch more drama. Castagna is good (once she settles into the pitch at the start), but her voice seems to possess less declamatory bite. I loved her in the lyrical "Printemps qui commence" a while back, but not so much in this sterner material.

Had Stignani been as effective as Baltsa (or a number of other singers) in the Iago-esque mutterings of "nil..nil...", I'd choose her. But this is a theatrical requiem by an agnostic, and the more operatic the singing, the better. I see too that no one has yet picked Baltsa, so I'll let that decide my vote.
 

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This is between Stignani and Baltsa, with Stignani having the more imposing instrument and Baltsa delivering a touch more drama. Castagna is good (once she settles into the pitch at the start), but her voice seems to possess less declamatory bite. I loved her in the lyrical "Printemps qui commence" a while back, but not so much in this sterner material.

Had Stignani been as effective as Baltsa (or a number of other singers) in the Iago-esque mutterings of "nil..nil...", I'd choose her. But this is a theatrical requiem by an agnostic, and the more operatic the singing, the better. I see too that no one has yet picked Baltsa, so I'll let that decide my vote.
I was tending towards her, but waffling between her and Stignani. I find Stignani too marmoreal and Baltsa more human and emotional.
 

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I'm not sure Castagna is particularly suited to this supremely dramatic music. It's all a bit too comfortable, so she went out first.

Stignani has a glorious instrument and is a deal more imposing, but it was Baltsa who really brought out the drama of the piece. She has a slenderer voice but the top is absolutely glorious and she uses her chest voice to splendid dramatic effect. Furthermore she is dramatically thrilling, particularly in the muttered nil nil towards the end.

I may be biased because I once heard Baltsa sing this under Colin Davis at Covent Garden. She made a fabulous impression then and she does so here. She gets my vote.
 

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I like Castagna very much here. I found her more emotive than Stignani, who I wanted to have a little more push in her lower register. Baltsa was good too but not on Castagna's level for me.
 
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Round Three - Liber Scriptus - Stignani - Baltsa - Castagna

Two full listening sessions of each selection - Once per day - Judged without reference to written comments...

Castagna - Once was enough but, for the sake of fairness, I did follow through with a second session but it did nothing to change my initial impression and I knew that she was going to unfailingly finish in third place in each of the categories that I use to judge.


Stignani - After the first session, I had her with a definite edge over Baltsa as she seemed to be gifted with a seemingly effortless sense of agility whereas Baltsa had to work hard to maintain a consistent level of craftsmanship and even harder to elevate it into artistry.

Baltsa - It was during the course of the second session in which I heard Baltsa far more clearly than I did in the first and by the end, I knew that, to be fair, she merited a clear edge over Stignani in "Musical phrasing" but that they would essentially be tied in each of the other categories with each "slight edge" for one being balanced out by the "slight edge" given to the other.

Vocal control - Tie - Stignani and Baltsa

Good tone - Slight edge to Stignani over Baltsa

Enunciation - Tie - Stignani and Baltsa

Pronunciation - Clear edge to Stignani

Musical phrasing - Slight edge to Baltsa

Voice suitability - Three-way tie

Versatility - Clear tie - When I listened to Stignani, she had the edge and then when I listened to Baltsa, she had the edge - Neither one was able to put enough distance between themselves to give an edge on this category to either.

Performance that I personally enjoyed the most - Stignani, but Baltsa got the vote when I totaled up the points. I felt real remorse over my somewhat casual dismissal of Castagna and so I awarded her "Miss Congeniality" - Baltsa would have won the swimsuit competition had we had one which we don't and so she didn't.
 
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