This pair of Requiems presents an object lesson in how to film a concert. The Mozart does so by inversion. Too many questions lack answers. Why don’t we see any wind instruments until the Sanctus? Why is the principal view of Böhm over his right shoulder? Why didn’t someone spot the tenor saying hello to mum in the Kyrie?
For all that, the performance has a hieratic grandeur matched by few others. The note-writer is right to draw attention to the chorus’s sensitivity and fortitude, often at tempi that stretch the bounds of musical credibility (Böhm is just pipped by Celibidache on EMI for Slowest Version Ever). Even the breath control of Janowitz and Ludwig is unequal to the task and all the soloists break their phrases in the ‘Recordare’. Accompanimental violin lines like the sobbing figure in the ‘Lacrimosa’ snap into focus, taking on a strange and unnatural beauty (the 5.1 mix also does some funny things to consonants). It is all magnificent in its own way but ultimately a bit pointless, as though performed in memory of a grand personage whom few knew and no one much liked anyway.
The Verdi was also made under studio conditions, in an empty La Scala before a concert in 1967 in memory of Toscanini’s death a decade earlier. There any similarity ends. Where Hugo Käch sees only the inconvenience of lighting and filming static musicians in harsh lights and dark shadows, Henri-Georges Clouzot sees ranks of choristers – from heaven or hell – with Price and Cossotto framed by the sopranos’ hands and grey silk wraps beneath like angels’ wings, double basses angled heavenwards, Karajan’s quiff with a life of its own, his profile at home among all those Roman (and Milanese) noses.
Price is simply magnificent but Karajan colludes with Cossotto (in a lovely black empire-line number) in letting her steal the show, as the two of them warm every line with intimate little touches: the ‘Recordare’ and Lux aeterna are rapt highlights. Pavarotti, clutching a score like a votive offering, looks out of his depth in such company but he shades the opening phrase of ‘Hostias’ with all the subtlety at his disposal.
Those who like to dismiss Karajan as the micro-manager could profitably turn to the DVD of Abbado’s Berlin performance (EMI, 7/02) in all its embalmed perfection. Ragged choral work and occasional dead spots notwithstanding – the ‘Quam olim’ and Sanctus seem handled rather than shaped – Clouzot’s and Karajan’s achievement has the authentic sniff of pathos. Even Toscanini might have given grudging approval.