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Requiem op 5

Alexander Samoilov (tenor)
Choir and Orchestra of the Saratov Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet/Yuri Kochnev
Recorded in Saratov in May 1999
BOHEME CDBMR 909101 [72.09]
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This is a recording of a live performance given at the opening of the 1999 Sobinov Festival. In Saratov, Western Russia. That is the implication at any rate of the programme note, but the applause at the end is the only concrete evidence of the presence of an audience, which must therefore have been remarkably disciplined. Given that it is a live performance some minor faults of ensemble and imprecise attack may be readily overlooked. However, Berlioz's extraordinary tour-de-force requires a very spacious location in which to make its many startling effects. One would have liked to be given more information about the Saratov theatre. Clearly it is large enough to accommodate the huge forces required, and it certainly enables the additional brass groups in Tuba Mirum and Rex Tremendae Majestatis to be widely spaced. Both these sections are very well performed and co-ordination is first-class. The thunderous interventions of multiple timpani are also suitably explosive.

Unfortunately all this good work is somewhat undermined by the theatre's insufficiently resonant acoustic. Tutti passages are congested and too much is relayed in close up. Nor is the sound spectrum consistently satisfactory: in particular the swishing cymbals are barely audible. On the other hand, the eerie flute and trombone duets are absolutely spot on.

If balance is sometimes less than ideal, the choral singing is generally first-rate: the soprano section is particularly impressive. Some of the quieter, more reflective passages are enchanting. Nor is there anything amiss with the orchestral playing unless, that is, the characteristically fruity timbre of Russian brass is not to your taste. Alexander Samoilov sings with authentically Italianate ardour and if you actually like - or at least don't mind - wide vibrato, then you will applaud his performance; for me, however, his vibrato is excessive.

Altogether, this disc constitutes a worthy and often exciting enterprise, worth sampling though hardly supplanting the historic Telarc recording.

Adrian Smith

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