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Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
Te Deum (1849-50) (complete score) [57:40]
Roberto Alagna (tenor)
Marie-Claire Alain (organ of Madeleine, Paris)
Choeur de l’Orchestre de Paris
Choeur d’enfants de l’Union Européenne et Maîtrise d’Antony
Orchestre de Paris/John Nelson
rec. 19-20 February 2000 at the Salle de la Mutualité, Paris
VIRGIN CLASSICS 5034072 [57:40]
Experience Classicsonline

What a magnificent work is Berlioz’s Te Deum, and what a tremendous impact it makes in live performance. I remember being thrilled and incredibly moved when hearing it some years ago at London’s Festival Hall where the huge forces of the massive double augmented choir and orchestra spilled out significantly into the auditorium. It is surprising that there have been relatively few recordings of this Te Deum - possibly because of the cost involved in the recruitment and staging of such large forces? Of the few recordings made; the most memorable, for me, is the venerable Beecham Philips 1953/54 mono recording with tenor, Alexander Young and a robust organ part by Denis Vaughan - the original LP recording reissued, none too successfully, to my ears, on CD as Sony SMK87964.
Nelson’s reading cannot quite match the immediacy and the emotional impact of that spine-tingling Beecham performance. Beecham’s crisp reading had authority and great dramatic tension; his wonderfully measured terracing of the work’s colossal climaxes is missing, so too are the powerful dynamics of the full-blooded Philips recording, the floor-juddering bass and the ringing brass salvos that I remember from the original 10-inch Philips LP - diminished, I feel, in the CD transfer. It has to be said though that the expansive Virgin digital stereo sound is very good and it obviously reveals more detail. Nelson’s reading includes the two optional pieces that Berlioz created especially as victory celebrations: the Prélude, using one of the work’s main themes and inserted between the ‘Tibi omnes’ and the ‘Dignare’, and a colourful and imposing march ‘for the presentation of the colours’, again relating to a Te Deum theme at the close of the work. Alagna in the prayer ‘Te ergo quaesumus’ is imaginative and pliantly expressive in his supplication. Alexander Young on the Beecham set was equally inspired. He had authority, ardour and clarity of diction. The grand Cavaillé-Coll organ of the Madeleine blends well with the ensemble and organist, Marie-Claire Alain’s reading is nicely emphatic.  On the whole, the Paris choir acquit themselves well with the exception of an occasional tendency to shrillness.
Two recommended modern Berlioz Te Deum alternatives are: Claudio Abbado’s outstanding 1982 DG recording (410 696-2) dynamic and dignified; and the equally impressive Colin Davis version recorded by Philips in 1969 and transferred to CD coupled with Berlioz’s magnificent Requiem as  Philips 464 689-2. 
A small gripe about the recording under review: it would have been helpful if Virgin/EMI had included the text of the Te Deum!
A good reading of Berlioz’s magisterial Te Deum which has the appeal of Alagna - but it faces fierce competition.
Ian Lace


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