Berlioz: Grande Messe des Morts (Requiem) (SACD)

Current Stock:
Bror Magnus Todenes, Bergen Philharmonic, Edward Gardner

With this surround-sound recording of Berlioz’s Requiem, Edward Gardner and the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra tackle the infinite and the immeasurable.

All the grandiose, striking beauty of the Requiem’s large-scale ceremonial is encapsulated by first-class vocal and orchestral forces, fully utilising the spatial possibilities of Grieghallen in Bergen. The matching of space and sonority was one of Berlioz’s lasting obsessions, one experience in St Paul’s Cathedral in London throwing Berlioz into a delirium of emotion from which he took days to recover. His Grande Messe des morts, notorious for its requirement of four brass bands in addition to a large orchestra and chorus, taken here from live concerts, has often been seen as one of the most emotionally powerful works of its kind.

Setting a solemn and austere, even ascetic text, the music is not that of an orthodox believer but of a visionary, inspired by the dramatic implications of death and judgement.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


Berlioz: Grande Messe des Morts, Op 5

Bror Magnus Todenes (tenor), Collegium Musicum Kor, Bergen Philharmonic Choir, Edvard Grieg Kor, Royal Northern College of Music Choir, Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Eikanger-Bjorsvik Musikklag (brass band), Musicians from the Bergen Philharmonic Youth Orchestra and Crescendo, Edward Gardner (conductor)

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The nineteenth century produced two great Requiems, the well-known one of Verdi, and the still underrated  Grande Messe des morts of Berlioz. The Verdi work, perhaps because of its operatic approach, has been almost overexposed, to the point of being used in many TV ads. Berlioz, by contrast, although also an opera composer, chooses to present an austere, visionary, sometimes terrifying realisation of the liturgical text.

Berlioz’s imagination extends beyond just the expressivity of the word-setting, he uses his orchestra and voices in adventurous ways, even placing a brass band at each corner of the concert hall at moments of peak intensity. But do not expect a shout-fest; Berlioz uses his forces delicately for the most part, and the intense whisper of his choruses is very moving. Of course, the composer of the gigantic Te Deum can be relied upon to impress when he does venture a climax, and his seismic use of the timpani is truly hair-raising.

The sheer size of the orchestra and choir required is reflected in the list of performers on this new hybrid SACD release: Choir of Collegium Musicum, the Bergen Philharmonic Choir, the Edvard Grieg Choir, the Royal Northern College of Music Choir, the Eikanger-Bjørsvik Brass Band, Musicians from the Bergen Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, and the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, all conducted by Edward Gardner.

The 5-channel SACD medium might as well have been invented for the vastness of the Berlioz Requiem. If you have surround-sound this SACD would seem indispensable!

- The Classical Music Collector, Chris Dench