Berlioz: Requiem; Te Deum
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Colin Davis's Berlioz cycle for Philips was a highly acclaimed, if not ambitious achievement forty years ago and many of his performances- including the Requiem and Te Deum here- remain the reference to which all others have since aspired. His soloists are all remarkably good (especially tenor Franco Tagliavini in the Te Deum) and the Wandsworth School Boys Choir simply sing their hearts out. Davis tends to downplay the usual theatrics most conductors pepper their readings with though his restraint pays off famously with one of the most highly dramatic, emotionally charged interpretations ever recorded. With Philip's 96 kHz 24-BIT remastered transfers as well, this glorious production sounds better than ever.
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I can't say I share his enthusiasm, but the TE DEUM is extraordinarily moving, the kind of large-scale choral work at which Berlioz excelled. The REQUIEM is equally powerful, but my idiosyncratic response is to be slightly repelled by funeral music, even if it's by Berlioz or Verdi, which is likely the legacy of being an ex-Catholic.
Speaking generally, Berlioz's blind spot was his admiration for Gluck. It gives his dramatic music a static quality, even though tone-color is his saving touch. I'll never understand why Berlioz couldn't make heads or tails of the Prelude to TRISTAN when he first heard it. I think if he'd been as influenced by Liszt as Wagner was, or even by Wagner himself, LES TROYENS might be the equal of the RING, instead of a magnificent aural landscape riddled with barren patches, certainly more of them than in the RING, a much longer work (well, there is SIEGFRIED, but WALKURE and GOTTERDAMMERUNG are gripping from start to finish).
After Wagner and Verdi, Berlioz is the shadowy third, and bringing up the pack are Mahler and Bruckner.
Mozart? Oh, but he isn't really comparable to this quintet: he's a musician apart, in a classification all his own ....
Any one not familiar with Berlioz' "Te Deum" should also give this careful consideration. I personally prefer the Te Deum over the Requiem and wonder why the two works are not equally known. Davis does not include two additional orchestral movements (optional) in the Te Deum which were included in the original composition for special use in services; a "Prelude" (interestingly enough, which was to be the 3rd movement), and a concluding "March pour las presentation des drapeaux" -- evidently, Berlioz was looking forward to the use of his music to celebrate military victories by Napoleon III. (The two recordings I know of which observe the optional movements are by Eliahu Inbal/ Frankfurt S.O., on Denon -- which is the much preferred one -- and John Nelson/ Orchestre de Paris, on Virgin -- much better in sound, but not performance.) This Davis is pretty much a standard version and not to be slighted. Reportedly, there is another Davis performance made for L.S.O. Live which may not yet have been released. Anyone who catches onto this neglected masterpiece should also investigate the Inbal.
I'd go so far as to say that later Berlioz Requiems with great sound--from Levine, Shaw, and Ozawa--are so much more listenable that the Davis set is outdated. I don't know what kind of audio system anyone else has, but mine reveals major sonic improvements on many reissues, just not this one.