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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


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Hector BERLIOZ (1803 – 1869)
Grande Messe de Morts, Op. 5 (1837)
Arrigo BOITO (1842 - 1918)

Prologue to Mefistofele (1868)
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 - 1901)

Te Deum (1898)
John Aler, tenor (Berlioz) and John Cheek, bass (Boito)
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/Robert Shaw.
Rec. Atlanta Symphony Hall, November 10-12 1984 (Berlioz); April 28, 29 1979 (Boito and Verdi) DDD
TELARC CD-80109 [76.01 + 75.36]


Telarc, like most other companies these days are in the process of re-releasing CDs made in earlier times at mid or budget price to obtain a new lease of life for their products in the catalogue. The logic is "New is Best", so re-releases are seen as new, and the hope is that this will attract a whole new set of buyers. In the case of Telarc, they do not even reissue with a different catalogue number, sleeve-notes, or even issue dates, simply send it round again at a lower price and see what happens.

Telarc is well known for superbly recorded performances, and rarely, if ever, have I seen a negative review of one of their products in this respect. And so it is here with a recording that cannot be faulted. If we add to this, an orchestra and chorus from a well respected venue under a conductor who is responsible for some of the most superb choral recordings available, Telarc should be on to a winner. And so they are, up to a point. The main work, the Grande Messe de Morts of Berlioz has rarely had a recording which so effortlessly handles the composer’s huge forces without strain. The chorus, superbly rehearsed gives a wonderful rendition of the score and the soloist, in John Aler, is as good as they come.

Why then does it seem that I am not overjoyed with this performance. Well, it is not that it is bad, it is just that there are better alternatives available. Unless you are a hi-fi freak, I would suggest that you will get a far better representation of what Berlioz’s work is all about from Colin Davis’s Philips recording. There, you will get relatively poor balancing of the choir, with the ability to hear individual voices coming through which somewhat spoils the effect, but the plus side is a thrilling emotional response which the current issue only hints at. Better still, if recording quality is less important than the music is the RCA recording (the first in stereo of the Requiem) by Charles Munch and his Boston colleagues (much better than the DG remake). These two performances distil the essence of what Berlioz’s Requiem is all about, and music lovers interested in experiencing this Mass should make a point of hearing either of these, if not both.

The fill-ups do not substantially alter the equation, although these are also performed more than adequately in superb, modern digital sound.

John Phillips

See also review by Tony Haywood



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