I’ve been collecting performances of the Verdi Requiem since high school.
The first performance I heard is still one I love: Joan Sutherland, soprano; Marilyn Horne, mezzo-soprano; Luciano Pavarotti, tenor; Martti Talvela, bass; Vienna State Opera Chorus, Vienna Philharmonic, conducted by Sir Georg Solti, 1968. It is gorgeous, especially Pavarotti (he sings this like it’s a sacred message, not a trace of ham, and the “Ingemisco” is sublime), and yet there are a few sluggish places. Duets with Sutherland and Horne are exquisite, and Horne’s “Liber Scriptus” is amazing, dark, so very different than her astonishingly light start of “Lux Aeterna”. Sutherland holds the ending well, though her voice is a little heavy.
My current favorite is a video of Angela Gheorghiu, Roberto Alagna, Daniela Barcellona, Julian Konstantinov, Claudio Abbado conducting the Berlin Philharmonic, Swedish Radio Chorus, Eric Ericson Chamber Choir, 2001. Gheorghiu’s power and passion come through, so beautifully, especially in the ending (that highlights the soprano soloist) for a performance that is an emotional ride much stronger than the 1968 Solti recording. Though I prefer Pavarotti’s voice to Alagna’s, and Marilyn Horne is my favorite mezzo, Gheorghiu shines, and watching on DVD and hearing a modern recording does matter.
Another performance I love is Toscanini’s, recorded on November 23, 1940 (apparently much better than Toscanini’s other recordings). The audio quality is no where near modern standards, but the performance is amazing, many people say the best performance of the Requiem ever. Nicola Moscona, Zinka Milanov, Bruna Castagna, Jussi Bjoerling, NBC Symphony Orchestra, Conducted by Arturo Toscanini.