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This short-measure CD follows on the heels of Pappano’s Verdi Requiem with the same Santa Cecilia forces. The Four Sacred Pieces are here captured in a live performance that reveals just how much this music is the lifeblood of these musicians. By turns sensitive and intimate, then austere, overwhelming and tremendous, Pappano directs a performance of these late pieces by a religious sceptic which has been rarely equalled since Giulini’s celebrated 1960s recording. The disc includes two rarities: the gorgeous Ave Maria from 1880, written while Verdi was contemplating Otello, with Maria Agresta a superb soloist. Agresta is also on top form in the Libera me from the multi-authored 1869 Messa per Rossini, which Verdi was later to rework (and vastly improve) in his own Requiem. Nevertheless, it’s more than musicological fascination to be able to sample the original version, especially when given with such commitment. Only the recorded sound of this CD loses it a five-star ranking.

PHILIP REED Read the full review on Agora Classica

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