HANDEL, MOZART, ROSSINI, BELLINI, BOITO, MONTEMEZZI: arias. Samuel Ramey, bass, with Donato Renzetti conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra and Ambrosia Chorus. Philips 420 184-2 (1 CD). Ramey, the most glamorous basso of the day, commands a big, dark, pliant voice that rings with exceptional freedom at the top and tends toward fuzziness at the bottom. He revels in the surface theatrics of Boito's Mefistofele, masters the heroic coloratura of Handel's Argante, spins a splendid legato in Bellini's "Va ravviso." The vocal fervor is most spectacular in Archibaldo's great monologue from "L'amore dei tre re." Ramey's well-sung "Madamina," on the other hand, lacks Mozartean wit (this is Don Giovanni masquerading as Leporello), and, in general, the recital is more notable for plangent tone than for probing drama.
VERDI: REQUIEM; OPERATIC CHORUSES. Susan Dunn, Diane Curry, Jerry Hadley, Paul Plishka, soloists, with Atlanta Symphony and Chorus conducted by Robert Shaw. Telarc 80152 (2 CDs). This dark-horse recording easily eclipses the recent Muti/Scala effort. Shaw does not command stellar forces, but this hardly prevents him from realizing the sweep, the grandeur and the majesty of Verdi's masterpiece. The scale is heroic, the dynamic nuances are sensitive, and the dramatic impact is momentous (this conductor even dares make generous use of the old-fashioned Luftpause ). The quartet is dominated by Hadley's sweet tenor (worthy of comparison in this music with Bergonzi and Gigli) and by Curry's burnished mezzo (worthy of comparison with Jessye Norman and Ebe Stignani). Dunn sounds properly ethereal, despite a tendency to approach top notes from below in the Caniglia manner; Plishka exudes dignified strength. Because the choral singing is passionately virtuosic, the five added opera ensembles serve as a welcome bonus.