Berlioz Grande Messe des Morts
Bror Magnus Tødenes (tenor); Bergen Philharmonic Chorus & Orchestra/Edward Gardner
Chandos CHSA 5219 (hybrid CD/SACD) 80:54 mins
One of my happiest musical memories of the last few years is of a performance of Berlioz’s Requiem under Edward Gardner at the Three Choirs Festival in Gloucester. He has the measure of this work – of its pacing, its contrasts and, not least, of its idiosyncrasies. Among my favourite moments here is the momentous hush before the first ‘mors stupebit’, with lower strings barely audible, stupefied by the extraordinary idea of death itself in awe; and the moment is all the more terrifying after the full blaze of brass and drums to which the engineers do full justice, as they do to the overall impression of space that’s vital to this work.
Achieving homogeneity from four separate choirs for any performance can be a problem, but here they blend perfectly and not only does their massed sound balance well with the orchestra but, for the most part anyway, words are audible. But why does the solo tenor, who sings strongly and accurately, sound as if in a practice room some distance away from the Bergen Grieghallen? If we’re being historical about this, the tenor at the 1837 Paris premiere was Gilbert Duprez who six years earlier had wowed the city with his chest voice top Cs in William Tell, and would surely have been centre stage for this work. A puzzle.