Customer Review

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Concert souvenir, 7 Nov. 2007
This review is from: Berlioz Requiem: Staatskapelle Dresden, Davis (Audio CD)
The cover and booklet of this CD are plastered with references to the occasional origins of this recording, made live in the Dresden Kreuzkirche before a 6,000 strong audience to commemorate the 1945 destruction of the city. The booklet even informs us that though two concerts were given, the additional power supply needed for the recording broke down the first night due to extreme cold, so that the present disc contains a single take of the second night - no patching. To aficionados of live-recordings that spells the real deal; I do not consider myself part of that group, so my first response was, uh-oh. As it turns out, however, the Dresdeners were on best behaviour; there are only a few coughs, as well as some stage noises, but nothing as bothersome as I've heard in several productions with a rather higher profile. That is not to say the sound is very satisfying. It lacks lustre, and does not cope very well with the louder moments, which is especially problematic in a reading that tends very much to loudness. On the plus side, it is re-markably detailed as far as the orchestra goes, though that has a downside too, making you aware that the magnificent Staatskapelle was not having a top night. Maybe the difficult church acoustic played a role in this. The choruses are fine, but mostly too distant, though the balance changes along the way and in later movements the men especially tend to be too close (i.e., loud). The tenor soloist is balanced very forwardly, so we get the full benefit of another horrible, operatic, bellowing rendition of what is supposed to be a prayer.

But, I hear you say, this is Colin Davis, the greatest Berliozian of our time, rerecording this piece for the first time in over 35 years, so it must be a great performance! Well, not really, I think. There is something overly emphatic in his approach, an overload of agogics (maybe at times occasioned by the ample acoustics?), a tendency to stress rhythms in a four-square way, and a recurrent habit of spoiling the mood by being too loud. An example of the latter problem is found in the Hostias, where at the heart-rending climax of each phrase the male chorus suddenly jumps out at you in an aggressive fashion quite at odds with the atmosphere of the piece. Another are the far from subtle (and not very well synchronized) sounds from bass drum and cymbal in the Sanctus, which are marked pp in the score.

Indeed, many of these same shortcomings are found in some other of Davis's recent re-cordings, notably his LSO Kullervo. In any case, this new version of Berlioz's Grande Messe is no match for his earlier Philips recording, and I say that as no particular admirer of that performance. In all, I wouldn't recommend this disc if you are looking for a single good performance of this most shattering of all Requiems. In the sonically spectacular moments it is let down by the recording technique; and in the more numerous and more important quiet passages it lacks mystery. Look to Norrington, on the same label, instead; or to Shaw (Telarc), Dutoit (Decca) or even De Billy (Oehms - but be warned that his tenor is even more terrible than Davis's).
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 12 Jul 2013 20:40:29 BDT
D. S. CROWE says:
Ozawa live with Boston symphony on RCA is very fine indeed and sonically superb- and I'm no Ozawa fan in general. SC
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