Hector Berlioz: Requiem
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As one would expect, Robert Shaw's rendition of the Requiem is magnificently polished, with choral singing that is beyond compare. The drama is not quite as pronounced as with Davis and Munch, but the work's majestic architecture stands clearly revealed. For once, Telarc's thunderous, bass-heavy pickup adds something to the sonic picture. --Ted Libbey
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I wouldn't want to be without it.
However, I also wouldn't want to spend a day without the immortal Charles Munch/Boston Symphony version. Especially in the stunning new hybrid SACD remastering.
Simply, this is one of those times when it is just common sense to own two best recordings of the same work.
If you love this work and know these two recordings, you understand why.
First, however, I have an arguement regarding this recording, which by the way, runs for a luxurious 83:31 on some of the cleanest and most sonically superb disaks on Earth, but then it IS telarc. So here's my discussion. It the Berlioz Requiem mostly a symphonic work with a chorus or is it a Choral piece withinstrumental support? Where is the major emphasis? If it is the first , then, try as he must of, Mr. Shaw may have been overwhelmed by the instrumental demands placed on him. I don't happen to think that was the case, but many other listeners would say yes. IF this requiem is predominantrly a vocal/religious effort, then Mr. Shaw is very much in his element. I happen to think THIS is the case, If the Berlioz Requiem is 60/40 Choral, as I think it is, then we have a grandslam here, out of the park, over the roof of Turner Stadium, (impossible, of course) but a smash nonetheless. To you purists out there, this may sound like heresey, but I also think Shaw's Mahler 8th is much the same, although that is a much better work, all around than the Berlioz. So, I for one believe Shaw's great gifts were vocal, the best in Us history. settlerd?
The opening "Requiem et kyrie" is ratrher like Verdi's, plaintive but with more of a sense of urgency. It is like waiting for a bomb to go off. We know what is coming, yet the anticipation is almost unbearable. Robert Shaw was Music Director in Atlanta from ---- to --- and was ----years old in this recording. It is simply one of his many superlative products for thiose lucky Atlantans, I envy them very much. This beginning piece, running a hefty 11:15 is convincing and honest. We can feel the tension and he transports us to one of thsose 19th Century dramatic, though often gawdy Romantic painting of the "Last Jugements" very effectively. Though I listen to this work with surgical level attention, it is tempting to just sit back and let it wsh all over you. I'm guessingf the ASO has a regular full-time roster of about 100-110 total players, and this part. Azqsfv
Robert Shaw, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, John Aler, tenor,
Total Time 84"
- Boito Prologue To Mefistofele (recorded Apr 1979, Atlanta Symphony Hall):
Robert Shaw, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, John Cheek, bass,
Morehouse-Spelman Chorus, The Young Singers of Callanwolde
Total Time 25"
- Verdi Te Deum (recorded Apr 1979, Atlanta Symphony Hall):
Robert Shaw, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, solo uncredited
Total Time 16"
NOTE: This review focuses on the Boito and Verdi selections in this album.
First of all, *all* of the music in this two-disc collection requires huge forces, both orchestral and vocal. Well-engineered sound is therefore critical to bring out all the dynamic differences without distortion, particularly in the high volume passages, which are many.
Robert Shaw and his muscial forces deliver in spades. The performances in the Berlioz, Boito, and Verdi are all outstanding, and each one receives top-notch sonics, thanks to Telarc's brilliant engineers.
The Boito Prologue and the Verdi Te Deum comprised Robert Shaw's final concert collaboration with Arturo Toscanini in March 1954. So there is some historical significance to this more recent pairing.
If you are unfamiliar with Boito's wonderful opera Mefistofele, here is a terrific introduction. The Prologue uses a massive chorus along with a short solo by the title character.
The outstanding Atlanta Symphony Chorus is joined by two other choral groups. The Morehouse-Spelman Chorus is a combination of singing groups from Morehouse College (all-male) and Spelman College (all-female), two historically black colleges in Atlanta. The Young Singers of Callanwolde is a youth group (ages 8-18) based at the Callanwolde Fine Arts Center in Atlanta; they perform regularly with the Atlanta Symphony.
John Cheek, bass-baritone, sings the short solo by Mefistofele. According to the liner notes, he has performed with the Metropolitan Opera and many major orchestras. However, just a cursory search on the internet showed that Cheek hasn't done much in the way of recordings. That's too bad because I really enjoyed Cheek's big, full-bodied sound. If this recording was any indication, I think he would have made an outstanding Mefistofele.
Boito's massive score demands top-notch engineering, and Robert Shaw and Telarc give it their absolute all. The result is a true "wall of sound" that will tempt many to turn up the volume.
The 25-minute Prologue is divided into 4 tracks for listener convenience.
The Verdi Te Deum is the fourth and longest movement of the Quattro Pezzi Sacri, the composer's last compostion. While the Te Deum is not nearly as monumental as the better known Requiem, it still needs a full-sized chorus to provide the power to balance the equally full-sized orchestra that accompanies it. I've heard other recordings, and was often put off by the meagre sonics. But Telarc's brilliant sound crew again pulls out all the stops, and makes this hymn of praise sound like Beethoven's 9th.
There is a short female solo at the end, but the soloist is not identified.
As a set, the Boito and Verdi along with the brilliant Berlioz form a choral collection that will provide endless hours of thrilling sound and listening pleasure.
The lavish liner notes include complete texts and English translations as well as detailed background and analysis, and biographies of the artists.
An unforgettable listening experience by any definition; highly recommended.