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Hard to fault this CD (but I will try: the tenor is too close to the microphone and is far too prominent). Not a piece I know so well as to be able to compare it with any other performance, but sounds typically Berlioz: big forces and a huge range of dynamics. The chorus manages not to sound too edgy, which is a bonus.
Cette version d'une œuvre moins connue (à tort, selon moi) que la "Grande messe des morts", autrement dit le "Requiem", se recommande non seulement par l'excellence de tous les interprètes (je me contenterai de mentionner John Nelson, l'un des grands chefs berlioziens du moment), mais aussi par le fait qu'elle comporte deux sections considérées (à tort dans le cas de la seconde) comme facultatives et, pour cette raison, rarement enregistrées : le Prélude (= 3e mouvement) et la Marche pour la présentation des drapeaux (= 8e mouvement), soit en tout près de huit minutes de musique... de Berlioz ! Les amateurs qui possèdent déjà la magnifique gravure de Claudio Abbado (DGG) ne devraient pas être déçus par celle-ci. En conséquence n'hésitons pas à prier Dieu pour qu'elle reste le plus longtemps possible au catalogue de l'éditeur.
The Te Deum is one of Berlioz's architecturally conceived works, and the space around the music is vitally important to the end result. The acoustic in this recording is artificially built, the Parisian orchestra and singers recorded in the Salle de la Mutualité and the organ at the Church of the Madeleine, both very big rooms. The result is surprisingly effective and combines spacious reverberation with enough (if not total) clarity of detail. The recording manages to sound like one location, although the sound image is a little flat. Also surprising given the large spaces is the slightly edgy treble and some lightness on the bass end.
It's in the balance among the performing forces that the engineers have attempted to suggest spatial separation. The large orchestra and organ are evenly balanced, with the choir some distance behind. This gives a two-channel approximation of the equality of organ and orchestra, which Berlioz actually wanted at different ends of the building speaking back and forth. (Dare we hope for a recording on surround-sound SACD someday?) There are a number of times, however, when the choirs are too far back in the mix. It sounds like all three choirs needed more singers, but maybe this is just recording booth slight-of-hand.
Nelson's performance is highly energized and rhythmically pointed. The spirit is martial and triumphant rather than devout and spiritual. This also helps the performance punch through the many seconds of reverberation. The emphasis on edgy wind color points out the Te Deum's relationship to the Symphonie Funèbre et Triomphale.
The Madeleine's Cavaillé-Coll organ is exactly contemporary with the Te Deum and produces the big, reedy sound Berlioz would have expected.
Alagna's solo is musical and tonally beautiful, but don't expect a French tenor sound.
In short, this is an exciting performance for a grand public event, mostly "gloire" and light on the "méditation". The optional March and Prelude movements that Berlioz intended for use only at state occasions fit right in here. In their competing Philips recording, Colin Davis and the LSO give the work a grandly reverential reading with generally darker orchestral colors. Both concepts work very well. (Some listeners may feel that the fine Keene performance is not a front-rank contender because of a too soft focus recording.) Nelson's performance is certainly among the best.
I have this Te Deum, the one by Abbado and the one by Davis. This one has the best chorus, the clearest recorded, and it's the only one where the children's choir really can be heard distinctly. The Abbado is a good version also, played slower, and the string section noticeably more pronounced (especially noticeable at the climax at the great Tibi Omnes). The Davis one I don't particularly like, very muddy sound, not the sharpest ensemble. However, no matter how you subjectively look at it, there is no doubt this version has unique tracks not included in the other recordings, the Presentation of the Flags, etc.
By far, the best. I bought all three (Nelson, Abado and Keene). Keene is for amateur (mild choirs), Abaddo is a little bit low inthe dynamic range (recorded in 1982 - it shows !). Nelson is the only one to have the 8th piece: "Marche pour la présentation des drapeaux", the piece with 16 harps: FABULOUS !