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
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.
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
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.
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.