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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A unique glimpse into the Berlioz of the future., 11 Dec 2003
Bob Zeidler (Charlton, MA United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Berlioz:Messe Solennelle (Audio CD)
Two hundred years ago today, Louis-Hector Berlioz was born. This is a day for me to comment on a few of my favorite performances of his works, some of them "favorites by acclamation" and others simply those in which I find special merit, enough so that they are frequently in my CD players.
Never mind that Hector Berlioz destroyed this student work. It is our good fortune that a copy of the manuscript survived these efforts, and moreover ended up in the hands of John Eliot Gardiner, who directs his Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique and the Montiverdi Choir plus soloists in this premiere recording. (The story of the discovery of the manuscript, believed – or at least hoped – by Berlioz to have been destroyed, is very well set out in the comprehensive booklet notes, as are Gardiner's comments on the work and "getting it to work.")
This is truly "Hector in the raw," the work of a 20-year-old Paris Conservatory student barely trained in the essentials (a burden he would carry around, on and off, throughout his life, thanks to his critics, not to mention his own proclivities toward writing music having few if any harmonic or rhythmic antecedents and which others couldn't fathom). The work clearly has its weaknesses: structural, harmonic, melodic, rhythmic and melodic immaturities simply flood the work, and it is little wonder that, after only two performances, Berlioz designated the work for the scrapheap.
But either he kept good notebooks or he had total recall. So much of this work showed up later (suitably transmogrified, of course, but far from totally disguised) in several of his mature masterpieces: the Symphonie fantastique, the Requiem, the Te Deum, and even his mid-period opera Benvenuto Cellini. Anyone familiar with these works will have little trouble identifying precursor sources throughout the Messe Solennelle. And even the "bad bits" that never did get recycled into later works have their own share of visceral excitement and primitive charm, despite all the weaknesses noted.
The performance, by Gardiner and his troupe, could hardly be more authentic short of partaking of time travel and actually being at the true premiere. The Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique is a true period-instrument ensemble (and sounds it), not only for its insistence on the reproduction of "standard" instruments of the time (low-tension stringed instruments, valveless trumpets and horns, etc.) but also for its incorporation of instruments (which Berlioz in the main plucked out of the brass bands of the time) that have now been obsolete for nearly as long as the work has been around: bass brass instruments that include the ophicleide, the buccin and the serpent. And what a joyful noyse this ensemble makes!
The vocal soloists are uniformly fine. Gilles Cachemaille, the bass, is an old hand at singing Berlioz, and Donna Brown (soprano) and Jean-Luc Viala, while not known to me before this recording also acquit themselves very well.
Recorded now a decade ago, in Westminster Cathedral (to best simulate its initial premiere venue, Saint-Roch in Paris), the sound is certainly among the best for such a type of venue: a great sense of acoustical space, but not buried in excessive reverberation. Very nicely done!
Not long after this recording came out, Bernard Holland, writing in the New York Times, said, "Mr. Gardiner seems to have the early franchise on the 'Messe Solennelle'." As far as I know, this is still the case a decade later. And perhaps that is as it should be; the last thing we need is to have another conductor come along, take a close look at the score, and try to "improve" it. Best that we hear this "Hector in the raw" as it was meant to be heard, and not all "prettified up."
Bon anniversaire, M. Berlioz!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Its flaws are its merits and its merits have no flaws: an actually naïf masterwork by an unbridled Genius., 2 May 2014
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This review is from: Berlioz:Messe Solennelle (Audio CD)
There is quite nothing to add to the exhaustive review by Bob Zeidler; besides, everything is also well analyzed in the really complete booklet of this wonderful CD.

I only wish to emphasize that you rarely will listen to something more vivid, spontaneous, creative and unbridled. The twenty-year-old Berlioz, like a not yet tamed thoroughbred, let his innate musical instinct run through unexplored musical prairies.
There were and there will be dozens of wonderful Masses in music, but Berlioz managed to create something absolutely original and peculiar: he leads us outside a town crowded with well built and marvelous cathedrals to find a primitive but phantasmagorical temple, where spirit can freely spread its wings in a spontaneous and heartfelt prayer.

I do not think that the work is interesting because it anticipates unorganized fragments of many ideas Berlioz will later develop and improve. No, it is not only a collection of good, but immature, sketches; I think the work has an autonomous and absolute value because it is actually naïf, and the Author is not an amateur, but one of the most original Geniuses in the history of music.

The fact that here we have a live recording of what was an important media event adds even more vividness to the whole thing; the performance is outstanding and particularly heartfelt: don't miss it!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What wonder!, 30 July 2013
Andrew C. Mitchell (Manchester, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Berlioz:Messe Solennelle (Audio CD)
I can not get over this. What a wonderful work from the twenty year old Berlioz! Missing in Berlioz lifetime, and then found in 1991. And then what artistry from the Orchestre Revolutionarie et Romantique with their period instruments, outstandingly led by John Eliot Gardiner! From the start the Messe Solennelle has tremendous impact, the Kyrie has surging tides of pleading singing. God is glorified in the following movement. And then, how beautifully the Monteverdi Choir women singers present us with gratitude fitly expressed. We know that Berlioz later used some of this music again in his Symphonie Fantastique. Of course this is music that should never be wasted. The fugue for the Quoniam that comes next was condemned by Berlioz himself, but I quite like it. The belief of the Credo is well sung by the bass Gilles Cachemiaille. The Incarnatus is a gentle, hovering, rocking movement which is successfully accomplished by soprano Donna Brown later duetting with the bass. Then, there is the agony of the Crucifixus, ending with time being marked before the explosion of Resurrection. Again, there are hints of what is yet to come in the Grande Messe des Morts. The effect of the solo bass singing out of Et iterum venturus is amazing. But even more, I love the rising tune used with the choir for Cujus regni non erit finis ( Whose kingdom shall have no end) I find myself singing it over. There are several more movements before the works massively triumphant conclusion. The orchestra and choir are full out for 'O Lord, save our king, And hear us when we call upon thee.' It is passionate and rousing music sung and played in the flattering acoustic of Westminster Cathedral. What wonder!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars classic music, 24 Mar 2013
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This review is from: Berlioz:Messe Solennelle (Audio CD)
helped me a lot to rehearse for a concert I am taking part in with my choir. good quality cd.
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Berlioz:Messe Solennelle
Berlioz:Messe Solennelle by Hector Berlioz (Audio CD - 1994)
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