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Berlioz: Messe Solennelle

Le Concert Spirituel/Hervé Niquet (Alpha Classics)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Messe Solennelle
Adriana Gonzalez (soprano), Julien Behr (tenor), Andreas Wolf (bass); Le Concert Spirituel/Hervé Niquet
Alpha Classics ALPHA 564   51:19 mins

I think it’s fair to take John Eliot Gardiner’s 1994 recording of this astonishing Mass as a performance marker, ending as it did the almost 170 years of oblivion in which the work had rested before the score’s rediscovery in an Antwerp organ loft. Hervé Niquet’s recording is an honest piece of work, but interesting too for its divergences from Gardiner’s. Most noticeably, Niquet tips the balance between choir and orchestra in favour of the latter, against Gardiner’s of the former. I do slightly prefer the choral superiority, which allows the words to be heard, following what I hear as Berlioz’s intention. The resonance in both recordings is about the same (around four seconds), but Gardiner scores in his slower tempo for the ‘Gratias’, Niquet’s making the movement sound more routine, almost perfunctory. This is a useful reminder that, even at only 24, Berlioz could write simple, slow music that touches the heart. I also prefer the Monteverdi Choir’s sharper articulation in the ‘Gloria’ – this despite what Gardiner remembers as their initial incomprehension of the movement! Finally, they are supreme in their sopranos’ angelic radiance above the stave. So, sadly, I feel honesty here is not quite enough.

Roger Nichols