Berlioz: Te Deum

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LABELS: Virgin
WORKS: Te Deum
PERFORMER: Roberto Alagna (tenor), Marie-Claire Alain (organ); EU Children’s Choir, Maîtrise d’Antony Children’s Choir, Orchestre de Paris & Chorus/John Nelson
CATALOGUE NO: VC 5 45449 2
Berlioz’s grandest choral work is presented here with remarkable conviction, considering that his main spatial requirement, separation of choir and orchestra from the organ, is taken to extremes: they were apparently recorded in separate buildings. Indeed, this version is indispensable in adding two instrumental pieces to the normal complement of six vocal movements: the Prelude Berlioz planned, then suppressed, before ‘Dignare, Domine’, and the final ‘March for the Presentation of the Colours’. It is good to have both pieces, although the March is hardly a fit sequel to the sublime ‘Judex crederis’ (fortunately ample time is allowed to switch off). But by recapitulating themes from the first chorus, the March and Prelude provide a broad organising framework, as well as respite from choral grandeur. The only solo movement is firmly delivered by Alagna. In the louder sections some orchestral detail gets lost, and the Madeleine organ sounds woolly in its few quiet passages; but in such textures clarity and ambience are hard to reconcile. Nelson’s tempi are sharp without the undue haste that mars Barenboim’s recording, and he achieves admirably incisive rhythms and plenty of colour. There is a strong, even rude, authenticity in the full organ and children’s chorus, and the recording offers more than enough dynamic range. Taken all in all, and given the resistance of such a colossal work to confinement on a mere recording, this forms a new benchmark, despite Beecham’s ancient glories and fine renderings under Claudio Abbado and Pennsylvanian forces under Dennis Keene. Julian Rushton