This recording of the
Berlioz Te Deum has a lot going
for it. Berlioz specialist John Nelson
conducts with many distinguished artists
including Marie-Claire Alain in the
important organ part. Unfortunately
they were not all in the same place
at the same time. The recording was
made in the Salle de la Mutualité
in Paris whilst Marie-Claire Alain played
the organ of the Madeleine. The recording
was first issued in 2001 and is now
Now technical wizardry
is such that the resulting recording
is both musical and believable. But
Berlioz wrote the piece for a specific
type of venue: a large French church
with the choir and orchestra at the
altar end of the nave and the organist
playing the Grande Orgue at the far
end of the nave. This means that the
opening alternation of chords between
orchestra and organ should take place
over a wide expanse of space. Here we
do not get any real feeling of distance.
The organ sounds as if it is placed
in or beside the orchestra. This might
not bother everyone, but I'm afraid
it bothered me.
the work at the church of St. Eustache
in 1855 on the eve of the inauguration
of the Universal Exhibition held in
Paris that year. Journalistic response
was very positive but even then there
was talk of whether the work was designed
to be performed in a church, whether
fitting nearly 1000 people in the building
was suitable and whether the music was
The Te Deum is
curiously scored: two choirs of soprano,
tenor and bass, children's choir and
large orchestra and organ. Berlioz included
the children's choir in the score after
hearing a large choir of foundlings
singing in London.
There is no obvious
origin to the piece, but Berlioz may
have been influenced by the choral masses
he heard in Russia. With its instrumental
prelude and march for the presentation
of colours, this work has clear links
with the processional pieces popular
in France at the period, including his
own Symphonie Funèbre et Triomphale.
The result combines moments of great
transparency and delicacy with serious
Listening to this recording
I was again brought back to the issue
of location and ambience. The orchestra
is recorded with a detail and clarity
which displays Berlioz's orchestration
most beautifully. But the chorus can
sound recessed, particularly in the
quieter moments when the choir could
have had more presence. I did wonder
what size of choir the piece had been
recorded with. The choral tone is focused
but lacks the amplitude of an extremely
large choir. At times the sopranos'
tone can get rather hard when they reach
the top of the stave. But overall the
choir sing with a good sense of line
and a nice clear and centred choral
The children's chorus
sing with a firm throaty sound but like
the main choir, they seem overly recessed.
On the other hand there were various
moments when I felt the piece was too
closely recorded. I longed for more
atmosphere though the results are admirably
In the solo movement
Roberto Alagna provides a good firm
line and strong tone. His voice is very
Italianate and I could imagine other
tenors singing with more transparent
and more French-inflected results.
John Nelson's view
of the Te Deum emphasises the
work's extremes. The quiet moments are
nicely contemplative and the loud moments
are extremely bombastic. Nelson has
a good ear for the orchestration and
brings it out on the modern instruments
of the Orchestre de Paris. It no longer
sounds particularly French but the music
of Berlioz fits it well and the playing
of the orchestra is both stylish and
I liked this recording.
It works well on modern instruments.
But there were moments when I would
have wanted to hear the piece played
with the greater transparency that comes
with the use of period instruments.
Alas, currently there is no such recording
in the catalogue. The other most recommendable
recordings are those by Colin Davis:
the classic one with the LSO and a more
recent one with Dresden forces.
This is a slightly
short-playing disc at just 57 minutes.
It would have been nice if the group
could have recorded at least one of
Berlioz's overtures or occasional pieces.
The booklet does not give us the text
of the Te Deum but it does offer a substantial
article on the work.
A highly recommendable
recording, which captures something
of the large scale of Berlioz's creation.