Berlioz: Grande messe des morts

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2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

WORKS: Grande messe des morts
PERFORMER: Michael Schade (tenor); Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, Elora Festival Orchestra/Noel Edison
CATALOGUE NO: 8.554494-5
Berlioz’s Requiem deserves his imagined ‘Euphonia’, an ideal society organised around large-scale live musical performances. To confine a work so demanding in its manipulation of physical and musical space to a recording is cruel. Naxos has some virtues: Edison maintains the flow in a work which conductors are prone to drag, textures are transparent, and the chorus, a few fluffy attacks aside, makes a pleasant, open sound. So does the tenor, although some head-voice would be more suitable in the ethereal Sanctus, and he sings much too near the mike. Otherwise what might have made a creditable live performance disappoints under scrutiny. The sound is dry; the quiet cymbals (Sanctus) sound like someone coughing; some legato passages are performed detached, to lumpy effect in the Lacrimosa. This movement is too hard driven, and the magnificent climax misses its full impact (Previn gets this tempo just right). The worst feature is that you need to turn the volume up and down to get a proper dynamic range, like a player-piano — but in this case technology is not to blame. The Dies Irae fares best because the brass choirs make even mezzo-forte into an acceptable contrast; elsewhere the chorus is repeatedly allowed to ignore pianissimo and diminuendo markings. Previn, in the Introit and the hushed end of the Offertorium, obtains all these vital nuances with a larger choir. In what seems poor value for Naxos, the Requiem, too long for one CD, stands alone, but gets nowhere near to filling two. Julian Rushton