Carlo Franci, Chorus and Orchestra of L'Accademia di Santa Cecilia Rome. LIM XR24 018.
Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) wrote mostly operas, some of the most well-known operas ever penned. Those operas contained their fair share of choruses, and record companies and conductors over the years have been quick to put collections of them down on shellac, vinyl, and silver disc. The collection of choruses under review here derives from a 1964 Decca recording, brought up to today's audiophile standards by the folks at LIM (Lasting Impression Music).
Maestro Carlo Franci and the Orchestra and Chorus of L'Accademia di Santa Cecilia Rome, do their best to make the nine choruses on the disc come to life on their own, apart from their native contexts. While choruses in general do not necessarily offer the best material for extended listening at a single sitting, they make downright thrilling listening for those brief periods of time when a person just wants a quick sonic lift-me-up or when trying to impress friends and neighbors.
The program begins where we might expect it to begin, with the biggest chorus of them all, the "Grand March and Ballet Music" from Aida. Franci never rushes it, yet never lets it become lax, either; instead, he captures all the grandeur and august splendor of the music on the largest possible scale. If you enjoy rival versions from the likes of Karajan on Decca, DG, or EMI, Franci's performances are on that kind of plane, resplendent in every way.
After that, we get "Vedi! le forche" from Il Trovatore, which also will not disappoint. The opening bars seem a trifle more hurried than I'd like, but there is no denying the excitement Franci generates with his tempos whisking away.
The next two selections come from Nabucco: "Gli arredi Festivi" and "Va pensiero," although printing errors reverse their order on the packaging. Franci affords both of them a proper solemnity, and they come across with a touching sincerity.
Next, we return to Il Trovatore with "Squilli echeggi," followed by "O Signore dal tetto natio" from I Lombardi, "Giuriam d'Italia" from La Battaglia di Legnono, the Prelude and Introduction from Attila, and "Fuoco di gioia" from Otello. These are distinctive, polished, freshly appealing interpretations, traditional to be sure, yet radiating a good deal of tension and beauty. They are as good as you'll find, matching Claudio Abbado's equally refreshing accounts for DG and recorded even better.
LIM producer Winston Ma says in a booklet note that he considers the Verdi recording "to be one of the most challenging discs to any sound system and acoustic environment due to its gigantic soundstage and the complexity of music: huge choral groups and layers of orchestral passages and human voices, all taxing the system and the listening room to the furthest extremes, not only of the sound spectrum but also of micro and macro dynamics and transient contrasts." He goes on to say that "the recording requires top-notch engineering to ensure premium production. Whether it is the nuance of a single violin or piano, or the huge soundstage and immense complexity of the orchestration and human voices, these recordings demand competent reproduction from a system with high resolution capability and a balanced acoustic room environment. Any deficiency in these qualities will render the music not involving and subject to sound to smearing."
Aside from Winston's not-so-subtle hint that if his recording doesn't sound good to you, it's the fault of your playback system, not his record, what he says is pretty much what every audiophile believes. For a good recording to sound really good, you do need a good stereo system to reproduce it. That said, I found most of what I heard very good, indeed, through my VMPS RM40's, though perhaps not to the extent that Winston suggests. There is a dash of brightness in the upper midrange-lower treble during loudest passages that could bother some listeners. That aside, there is nothing but good I can say about the sound.
We hear a pleasant ambient bloom everywhere, the acoustic lending to the epic atmosphere of the recording. The chorus, slightly bright as I say, never sounds smeared, and, in fact, the forward quality of the sonics lends an extra degree of clarity to the affair. Besides, one does not notice the added edge in softer moments, which are just as numerous as the bigger ones.
The brasses ring out gloriously. There is pinpoint accuracy in the stereo spread, imagery, and depth that helps the overall verisimilitude of the proceedings. Extended highs ring out clearly and sweetly, while bass is more than adequate to hold its own. Transparency is outstanding; dynamics are wide; impact is strong; transient response is quick; and it is only those fleeting moments of upper-frequency edge that may cause a minor distraction (although to be fair to LIM, I remember the original LP having the same forward edge, the LIM release simply retaining, as it should, what was already there). Otherwise, this LIM remaster provides beautifully full, well played, realistically recorded accounts of Verdi's music.