Berlioz Requiem & Te Deum
The similarities between these two great choral works – ‘the monumental style, the blend of austerity and brilliance’, to quote David Cairns’s description in the booklet – make them an ideal coupling for a two-CD set. Both are tremendous sonic showpieces, but that does not automatically mean that the latest recording is the first choice. Sir Colin Davis’s Berlioz cycle dates back 30 years, but the performances reissued here remain among the front runners: a worthy addition to the Philips 50 series of ‘great recordings’.
The key is Davis’s ability to concentrate on the inner meaning of the music, rather than its outward effects. In the Grande messe des morts, conductors as various as Maazel, Levine and Ozawa have failed to see any more than generalised beauty and grandeur, but Davis is always alive to the specific emotion of the moment, whether it is the pleading of the ‘Quaerens me’ or the angular pain of the ‘Lacrymosa’. His chorus is stretched, especially in the underweight tenor section (Berlioz prescribes 60 tenors, adding helpfully that the numbers may be doubled or tripled if space permits) and Ronald Dowd is not entirely comfortable in the solo part of the ‘Sanctus’. But in all other respects this is a high-quality performance of vision and imagination.
Recorded a few months earlier in 1969, the splendid Te Deum is given a performance of comparable virtues. A shame the recording details do not state the exact location, when the venue is an important player on its own account in these grand Berlioz choral works, but Philips’s natural sound quality stands up well to the recent competition