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Hector BERLIOZ (1803–1869)
Te Deum Op. 22 [1849] [51.43]
Richard WAGNER
Die Meistersinger (Overture) [11.35]
Jose Carreras (tenor)
Concert Association of the Vienna State Opera Chorus; The Prague Philharmonic Choir; Tolzer Boys Choir; Aurelius Boys Choir
Martin Haselbock (organ)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Claudio Abbado
rec. live, Alte Oper, Frankfurt, 12 September 1992.
DVD. (PCM Stereo)
ARTHAUS MUSIK 102 029 [66:00] 

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This is a weird issue, and shows how the music industry is getting its knickers in a twist.

On the case is a large sepia-toned picture of Jose Carreras and emblazoned on the sleeve are the words “Jose Carreras Collection”. To me this would suggest a DVD concentrating on the tenor and his activities. Fans should be aware of this, as ‘our man’ appears for under five minutes of the whole disc.

On the other hand, if one is looking for a DVD of Berlioz’s Te Deum, this disc would normally be passed by on the shelves because the indication of that work is in small letters at the bottom right-hand side of the cover. Content and layout of the cover should probably minimise the take-up for Berlioz fans and disappoint Carreras fans in one fell swoop; an example of the worst kind of marketing.

The first item on the DVD is a rousing performance of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger Overture. The Vienna Philharmonic must have played this many a time. Here, their exciting performance is enthusiastically received by the audience.

Those enthusiasts who have been collecting Abbado recordings, should be warned ever so slightly. In the case of some issues made with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra and other orchestras the listener will have experienced an Abbado quite different from the Abbado on this disc. Recent discs have shown the conductor in his post-illness phase, conducting with a passion which is largely absent from his pre-illness recordings. Although the present disc is extremely enjoyable, it does not quite have the energy of more recent performances by this artist.

The Berlioz Te Deum has not been blessed with many recordings. Some will be aware of the Abbado version, made for DG, with the European Youth Orchestra and recorded in St. Albans in 1981 which is very similar to the present issue. It is scored for very large forces, including a large children’s chorus. In that performance, the tenor is Francisco Araiza; with the present one we have Carreras. Carreras sings reasonably well, in fact very well for the first part of his Te ergo quaesumus, but goes a little awry in the latter part of his solo. This is to be expected, since this performance was recorded not long after his illness. To be sure, given the date of this performance, I was expecting it to be much worse than it actually is. Perhaps in this case, it is the brevity of his role that saved the day.

The Arthaus recording is very good with the Frankfurt organ making its spectacular effect at the beginning of the work. It is a shame that the organ is placed behind the choral and orchestral forces. Berlioz intended his work to start antiphonally, with the opening orchestral chords and organ chords being tossed back and forth across the entire performing space. Unfortunately, with the layout of most concert halls and churches, this is not possible, given that the other requirement is for a performing space that can accommodate one thousand performers. The first performance of the work, given in St. Eustache, Paris where the requisite layout is possible, must have been a very moving experience, although I doubt whether the forces of the day would have sounded as secure as those on this issue.

9 out of 10 for performance and recording and 0 out of 10 for presentation.

John Phillips





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