Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

WORKS: Requiem, Cantique de Jean Racine, Messe Basse
PERFORMER: Ilse Eerens (soprano), Bernarda Fink (alto), Maximilian Schmitt (tenor), Nathan Berg (bass); Collegium Vocale Gent; Royal Flemish Philharmonic/Philippe Herreweghe


Getting the balance right in a performance of Dvořák’s Requiem is no mean achievement. In parts it is strongly operatic – Dvořák knew Verdi’s Requiem – but throughout there is also strong symphonic design. Overarching these tendencies is an elusive, visionary quality at its most profound and moving in the concluding Agnus Dei; here, arresting modal writing for the chorus eventually reaches celestial heights in the closing pages. That said, parts of the Dies irae are, frankly, melodramatic in the best Romantic tradition and there are stretches of exhilarating, almost rollicking choral writing in the ‘Quam olim Abrahae’ fugue and the conclusions of the Sanctus and Benedictus.


Philippe Herreweghe takes his task seriously. The first two movements of the Requiem are for the most part superbly delicate and beautifully shaped. The choral sound is always lovely, even if at times it lacks sufficient weight (the work was conceived for large choral forces) and could have benefited from a more resonant recording. Unfortunately, the opening chorus of the Dies irae is rather four-square. Simply put, Herreweghe does not throw himself and his performers into its overt fire and brimstone. Likewise, the ‘Quam olim Abrahae’ fugue is on the tame side as is the conclusion of the Bendedictus. While there is much to enjoy, not least the Recordare for the excellent solo quartet, this is a somewhat small-scale performance of a work that succeeds best when its grand gestures are played for all they are worth, as in István Kertész’s vintage recording or Mariss Jansons’s more recent version (RCO Live). Jan Smaczny