Life in the labels yet: EMI's big classical discs

Wed Sep 16, 2009 7:12am EDT
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By Michael Roddy

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Big record labels are in terminal decline, so it is said, but to judge from the hoopla over the EMI/Apple release of remastered Beatles discs, plus a host of EMI classical offerings, the patient is still kicking.

It's rare that anything from the classical catalog is a big seller, and the space retailers devote to it seems smaller every day, but that hasn't stopped EMI from bringing out some hefty offerings that will force a few collectors to weigh up the cost of purchase versus remaining space on the CD shelf.

One of the headliners, as far as the label is concerned, is conductor Antonio Pappano's reading of the Verdi "Requiem".

The performance by the British conductor, whose parents are of Italian lineage, was recorded live earlier this year in Rome's new Parco della Musica with the chorus and orchestra of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia and soloists.

As might be expected, the interpretation has an "Italianate" flavour, and EMI is plugging that angle with a note on the back cover saying this is a Verdi "Requiem" performed "in the way that only Italian artists can".

The risk in saying this, however, is that two of the most cherished "Requiem" recordings of the past half century or so were led by Italian conductors.

One of them, Arturo Toscanini, knew Verdi, while the other, Carlo Maria Giulini, had a lineup of soloists for his 1960s studio recording, also on EMI and remastered in 1997, that reads like a wish list: soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, mezzo Christa Ludwig, tenor Nicolai Gedda and bass Nicolai Ghiaurov.

Pappano, with the help of more sophisticated recording equipment, the airy acoustic of the Roman hall and his own excellent set of soloists, including tenor Ronaldo Villazon and bass Rene Pape, has a lot going for him, however.   Continued...