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There's little more thrilling than having blazing brass blasting from the extremities of your living room. In this Requiem the Tuba Mirum, along with some of the Lacrymosa, makes the loudest heavy metal band sound like a reluctant Sunday School choir practice. There are a few audiophile recordings of the Berlioz Requiem that you can use to show your friends why you spent so much money on your hi-fi that you have to eat baked beans on toast five days a week, but the only slight hitch is that most of the Requiem is quiet, and what's more, it takes an exceptionally good Berlioz conductor to mould the piece together for its duration of nearly 90 minutes. And there aren't many of those.
Beecham was a great Berlioz conductor, and Colin Davis was his successor. Other than that there have been... um, well, I'll get back to you on that one. There is a special art to making Berlioz's music sound just right that most of the revered maestri of the last 50 years or so didn't quite possess, give or take a few fine performances here and there (Solti's Damnation of Faust springs to mind).
As a comparison I'll take Previn's performance of the Requiem, which I've owned for a long time. The (just recently, at the time of writing) late, great Mr Preview - as he was known in the classic Eric and Ernie sketch - gives a very decent account of the piece on EMI with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus. The recording engineers went the extra mile, in that they tried to recreate the vastness of the inaugural performance at Les Invalides, and to a large extent they succeeded. The downside is that the chorus sounds very distant (and there's also a loud hiss, which is unforgivable on a modern recording) - but more importantly, the performance is competent rather than inspiring, especially when compared to Davis. Previn was a fine conductor, but some of the quiet passages pass by without making an impact and even the Tuba Mirum sounds ponderous and overblown after the initial fanfares.
Colin Davis makes every bar of this piece resonate. The unaccompanied Quaerens me, beautifully sung by the LSO Chorus, is totally involving. In Domine, Jesu Christe Davis brings out the contrast between the repeated three-note choral motif and the orchestra's ever-developing melodic line, so that the final peaceful resolution sounds all the more ethereal. After all the pomp of Rex Tremendae, "Et de profundu lacu" comes as a terrifying contrast even for those of us who haven't given much thought to being delivered from the abyss. The final movement, which is basically a Berlioz Requiem's Greatest Hits, doesn't sound at all like a rehash at all but rather as a logical conclusion to what has gone before.
The sound may not be audiophile but it is still very good, and faithfully reproduces this exemplary performance. The Tuba Mirum isn't a sonic spectacular but is still awe-inspiring, not least for the thunderous timpani which are splendidly captured. In the Sanctus, Ronald Dowd is quite adequate - he sings with suitably reverential tone which is really all you need.
I haven't heard all of the recordings of this masterpiece, but I find it hard to imagine this classic performance and recording being bettered any time soon.
On a souvent reproché à Berlioz "l' hénaurrrmité" de son Requiem et on a tort ; certes le côté tonitruant existe, le côté un peu tape à l'oeil, mais l'ensemble du Requiem diffuse une musique souvent très retenue, très recueillie, très belle. Colin Davis dirige ce grand vaisseau de façon tout à fait magistral - on ne dira jamais assez toute la reconnaissance que nous devons à cet immense chef rien que pour avoir rendu à la musique de Berlioz tout son lustre et son éclat. Par contre, je n'aime guère la symphonie funèbre et triomphale ...
Probably the best vesion of the Berlioz Requeum out there. Colin Davis brings the right interpretation to the table. Also the quality of the recording itself is excellent. I don't know if that is because of the recording techniques used at the source or of the terrific recording hall that the orchestra is playing in.
I also own the Shaw recording of this same work with the Atlantic Symphony. It sounds to cleansed and lacks the raw strength and vision of the Davis interpretation.
I know a lot about most classical works and the Te Deum by Berlioz is one of my favourites. I am not much into masses or Requiems etc but had heard this was his "other" super work with many many musicians needed to play this huge work. It is nothing like the Te Deum, at least to my ears. Maybe it will grow on me...hey if you can like some of Mahler's symphonies you can grow to like anything!!! LOL!
UPDATE: June 2018.....OK 5 years ago someone told me that it would grow on you. It has. Is still like the Te Deum better but what is really cool about this recording is it still has the original quadraphonic encoding. I am a lucky fellow to own an Involve Audio matrix decoder. This Australian company out of the blue developed a decoder for both SQ and QS matrix decoding with TODAYS technology. What this thing does for this recording will blow your mind!!!!! It is like you are sitting in the cathedral with the ambiance totally engulfing you with no smear or detriment to the excellent stereo separation up front... Stunning. By the way dear reader, the Involve Audio device is fantastic on MOST of my lp's and cd's along with anything recorded in stereo. If the recording was made in a concert hall it is amazing at extracting the acoustics and putting them in the rear channels. With most of my 80's and 90's rock it is also fantastic...like recordings from ELO and Alan Parsons etc... Classical recordings can just astound you regardless of date as long as recording is stereophonic. And of course, if you own Quad records the result is like discreet channels. It will blow the Dolby Pro-logic II OUT OF THE WATER.