Berlioz: Grande messe des morts

Our rating 
2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

LABELS: Telarc
WORKS: Grande messe des morts
PERFORMER: Frank Lopardo (tenor); Atlanta SO & Chorus/Robert Spano
There’s a restraint, a Classicism, an economy at the heart even of Berlioz’s most sonically spectacular works, without which they wouldn’t be half as impressive as they are. It may be that Robert Spano thinks this is what he is revealing with this nicely played and sung, but totally uninvolving version of the Requiem. Certainly it’s a new and different experience to hear a performance of this work that’s so, well, circumspect – good-mannered, even – but I for one was distinctly underwhelmed by it. There’s nothing wrong with Spano’s phrasing or tempi (though some of those are on the sedate side), nor with the choral singing – there’s just a fatal lack of tension throughout. Nothing arouses awe; you would hardly know this is a bold, revolutionary utterance. The big climaxes appear and go their way as if unmotivated, while the much-vaunted Direct Stream Digital (DSD) recording method does not, on my system, translate into anything more than perfectly acceptable sound. Certainly voices and orchestra are beautifully balanced, and tenor Frank Lopardo takes a lyrical rather than heroic view of his role. Robert Shaw’s performance of the Requiem with the same Atlanta forces, if not one of the greatest, at least has a good measure of the spiritual fire and electricity that this new version so signally lacks. But while my favourite Charles Munch/ Boston Symphony version (RCA) remains currently unavailable, there seems no earthly reason to prefer Spano to Colin Davis’s vintage account with the LSO, handily coupled with the Te Deum. Calum MacDonald