Berlioz: Grande messe des morts

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Berlioz
LABELS: Signum
WORKS: Grande messe des morts
PERFORMER: Robert Murray (tenor); Gabrieli Players & Consort; Wroc√aw Philharmonic Orchestra & Chorus; Ensemble Wroc√aw; Chetham’s School of Music Symphonic Brass Ensemble/Paul McCreesh
CATALOGUE NO: SIGCD 280

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Paul McCreesh and his Gabrieli Consort have a fine track record of large-scale Baroque choral works, so it’s surprising to find him opening his new label, Winged Lion, with the great monstre sacré of the Romantic repertoire. McCreesh provides pretty much the enormous forces Berlioz demands – 60 tenors at least – singing French Latin, as well as mostly original instruments (including ophicleides), leavened with Polish forces from his own Wratislavia Cantans festival. But he recognises that Berlioz sought more than mere noisy grandeur, and the results are fascinating.

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McCreesh’s pace is fairly slow and weighty, but it seldom feels slack. In the reverberant acoustic of Mary Magdalene, Wrocław, textures remain open. The Requiem and Kyrie are spacious and mournfully reflective, the Dies irae builds to a simply awesome ‘Tuba Mirum’, while the unaccompanied ‘Quaerens me’ displays a Renaissance-like transparency. With some choral specialists orchestral focus and detail may suffer, but the cor anglais and bassoon-lines in the ‘Quid sum miser’ are delicate, the ‘Lacrymosa’ robustly syncopated and even the weird flute and trombone lines in the ‘Hostias’ convince. In the Sanctus, tenor Robert Murray, set high up, sounds ethereal rather than heroic, in keeping with McCreesh’s style. Even those used to the Colin Davis or Charles Munch tradition may find its airy beauties compelling. Michael Scott Rohan