WORKS: Te Deum
PERFORMER: John Aler (tenor), Mark Kruczek (organ); Young Singers of Pennsylvania, Voices of Ascension Chorus & Orchestra/Dennis Keene
CATALOGUE NO: DE 3200
Berlioz’s magnificent Te Deum resounds splendidly from the cathedral of St John the Divine, New York. Silent pauses gather up residual sound from awe-inspiring progressions, climaxing in the grandest of all visions of judgement, ‘Judex crederis’. Despite a steady tempo, the first number, heard at home, made me shy away from the confusion of counterpoint; in a larger room with bare walls, the sound combines strength with clarity. The vast forces are caught by a microphone placed to avoid most of the reverberation, and thus too close for an ideal sonic perspective. The organ reeds are grand, but its deep flute in ‘Tibi omnes’ is muddy. The choir of professional singers, in contrast to the normal amateur hoard, lacks mystery but compensates by purity of attack; the third choir of trebles is carefully highlighted; John Aler seems to try too hard in ‘Te ergo quaesumus’.
The performance was evidently prepared with loving care and intelligence by Dennis Keene. This emerges from his booklet note, which he also reads aloud after the performance, backed by tastefully edited extracts. With few technical terms (we are expected to understand canon, but pedal and pizzicato are considered to need definition), this commentary effectively communicates the spirit of Berlioz’s work, and its strange forms, notably in ‘Dignare Domine’. Nevertheless the Te Deum as performed here lasts under fifty minutes; I would prefer the disc to have been filled by its two instrumental movements, which, in the minimal historical context offered by Keene’s talk, are not even mentioned. But if not quite a ten-star production, this is a grand performance which reinforces my conviction that the Te Deum is Berlioz’s greatest choral work.