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Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
Requiem, "Grande Messe des Morts," Op 5 (1867)
Frank Lopardo, tenor
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/Robert Spano
Recorded in Woodruff Symphony Hall, Atlanta, Georgia, USA, 9 November 2003
Notes in English with text in Latin and translation.
DSD 2.0 stereo and 5.1 surround sound. 2.0 stereo cd tracks.
Hybrid SACD also playable on CD players
TELARC SACD 60627 [77.01]


Comparison Recordings

Rev. Robert Shaw, John Aler, Atlanta SO and Chorus Telarc 80109-2

Sir Colin Davis, Ronald Dowd, LSO and Chorus. [ADD] Philips 464 689-2

This is the first high resolution and surround sound recording of the Berlioz Requiem and it is a marvellous achievement. On the SACD surround tracks during the “Requiem” and “Lachrymosa” movements the trumpets are placed firmly in the rear of the hall and the cavernous acoustic is realistically depicted, giving a thrilling sense of place and producing a grand arena of swirling sound. The CD tracks on this hybrid CD preserve much of grandeur and, when played through a surround sound decoder, the directionality of the SACD tracks.

A previous very competent recording of this work by most of these same forces with conductor the Rev. Robert Shaw (If Sir Colin is going to get his title, Rev. Robert should also), again on the Telarc label, also featured brilliant two channel sound, and a particularly exciting and aggressive timpani section. However it displayed a relative lack of commitment on the part of the chorus and conductor. American Bible Belt Protestant Christians apparently just don’t really believe that anything bad could ever happen to them and that comes across in their admittedly very skilled performance of this music. Robert Spano has drilled the chorus in dramatic phrasing, so, while superficially there is a little more drama here, the chorus is still at heart relatively unconcerned with death or judgement. With each subsequent recording we are left ever more in awe of the magnificent 1970s achievement of Sir Colin Davis and the London Symphony Orchestra and chorus. Even though that recording is now definitely showing its age sonically it remains the most effective, most exciting, most committed version I’ve ever heard. Reportedly (I’ve not heard it.) Davis’s recent remake with the same orchestra does not rise to that earlier standard. Whatever Davis was able to do in the 1970s to terrify his chorus half to death, he couldn’t do it a second time. Or, it may be that to your taste the Davis recording was raw, over articulated and irreverent and that you will prefer this Spano version over all others because of its smoothness and sense of reverent restraint. Whatever, Spano and his forces come thrillingly to life in the “Rex Tremendae” section, and Shaw and his chorus gave us a hauntingly beautiful “Recordare.”

The very first Telarc release was a direct-to-disk LP recording run through a stay-level compressor circuit. The label’s technical standards have at least occasionally since that time shown a lack of commitment to realistic dynamic range, and that is a little bit in evidence here. Things get loud and soft now and then, but the impact is only moderate.* And if the back-of-the-hall trumpets are effective in the movements with massed forces, putting the tenor soloist back there has the poor man yelling ineffectually into an acoustical sponge trying desperately to make himself heard. It must be said that Shaw’s tenor, John Aler, gives us one of the finest performances this part has ever received. If you’ll buy a Berlioz Requiem just for the tenor, you already have that one.

Technically, in perspective, this is a gorgeous “Requiem” and “Lachrymosa.” The chorus sings skilfully and the conductor keeps everything together, every instrument is audible and in its proper place. Hi-fi surround-sound SACD buffs will want this disk. If you have the earlier Davis recording — particularly the high resolution re-mastering — you may prefer to keep enjoying the Davis version and wait for something truly better. It may be a long time.

* I would like to hear this same recording issued on a DVD-Audio.

Paul Shoemaker


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