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on 15 March 2013
Guess what...
I did not started my listening session of this 2-SACD set, colossal oeuvre, with the first movement, the Requiem & Kyrie or with the Dies Irae, but instead went straight to the sixth movement, the Lacrymosa. And why?
I wanted to check first how this recording carries its sonic development (read it "how it swells, inflates"), from pianissimo to FFFF gradually, in a span of about 12 minuets; and taking into account that the SACD multichannel recording was recently made, captured during live performance 25th & 26th June 2012 at the St.Paul cathedral, I thought this test of dynamic richness, dynamic gradation and sound-stage dimensions is a most essential parameter upon which the whole listening session of such a grandeur of an oeuvre would stand or fall.

In the past efforts by EMI (late sixties and early seventies) and by DGG has proven a deep sonic disappointment; the notion back then was that following the letter of the huge score and accurately following the score's forces involved would render it impossible to capture on tape and certainly would have to be greatly compromise when transferred to the LP grooves (it would have to be seriously compressed at loud passages, and would have to have a sever attenuation of the bass dynamics and range...) in other words; it was seen as an almost-impossible prospect.

Well, contrary to previous LSO (sonically failed) digital recordings made in their Barbican hall, this session has taken the LSO and chorus outside of their soft-dead-muffled-sounding-hall and placed them in a totally different atmosphere and a totally different acoustic environment - and by that (and by grace of a keen-ear producer), the revered London ensemble got the sonic result for this oeuvre - a result that one might boldly claim to be one of the most desired, inspired, grandiose, almost as big as the live event, sonically awesome inspiring, a grand test for a big multi-channel playback system abilities in realism.
But not only that:
There is a grand-feeling of streaming along, of surrender to the greatness of this Berlioz music with Davis conducting and with the tempos he takes here that defy yearning for something grander than that.
The "Lacrymosa" has its central tune which is very easy for the mind to repeat and hold. It simply sits well on the audible memory after only one listening to the theme, but than, at the top of it after several repetitions and semi-pauses, and at the sudden apex - there comes the gong clash (sound-stage left-side) and the FFFF of the brass ensemble and the choir, all which will either get your skin into a bump-goose mode or will make you begin to sob or cry; (now be certain to read about people's reaction present at the church where this oeuvre was rehearsed for the first time ever; you will come to grip with your own reaction to this music and to the notion that even today these passages never fails to move, to impress to bring to the fore something which is universally present there in the music, and in particular in the mold of the European anima and in the listener's set-of-the-mind...)

I believe that there is no need now to farther elaborate upon the Dies Irae sonic (the overwhelming chorus of trombones, tubas, trumpets, of tympani - which are potentially a roof raisers...) the Sanctus or the Agnuis Dei sonic - all are at the cutting-edge of what this very special LSO superb SACD multi-channel recording achieves here.
The tenor soloist passages, though quite short, are sung with elan, with an angelic-smooth voice, taking the notes which are all almost at the top end of the tenor-voice-range (should be a "tenorino" voice with the use of "kopf-tone') and producing them with great accuracy, pitch, and delicacy...

The booklet that accompany the 2-SACD does not elaborate on the recording equipment and components used for this 2012 recording, but judging from the results; sweet, in-intrusive, harmonically correct, more analogue-like presentation of the sound than usual - these must be the best of the best gear available to this recording team.

However; one should not overlook the almost sixty years old Munch/Boston recording (available on SACD front channel only), which in his high-days was considered to be a mile-stone of a recording.
In a direct comparison with this LSO SACD multichannel recording the Living Stereo images sounds somewhat closer to the listener, somewhat more defined, somewhat grainier and flat in texture and limited in dynamic and frequency range. (other front-channel only CD recording/non SACD - becomes now irrelevant and obsolete altogether and that includes the Telarc CD).

This SACD multi-channel recording of Colin Davis/LSO should be up-front, high on the list of every Berlioz aficionado.
Equally, it is imperative now for the LSO label to comes to grip with reality and for the sake of superior future recording with the LSO - abandon the Barbican hall as a recording location altogether.
The sonic and artistic achievement present here with this LSO recording (outside its hall) and in an appropriate acoustic environment for the specific work at hand, supports the SACD medium/technique claim to superiority.

I wish I could endow this recording with more than the five stars...!
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on 14 March 2018
Hector Berlioz’s Requiem, officially known as “La Grande Messe des Morts”, was composed in 1837 to commemorate the dead of the Revolution of July 1830. The openly agnostic Berlioz was perhaps not the most obvious choice of composer to write a piece of sacred music, but he accepted the commission because he wanted to compose a large-scale work for choir and orchestra. The work is scored for a very large orchestra, including four offstage brass ensembles. The word “requiem” is, of course, Latin for “rest”, but in common with some other composers of requiems, notably Verdi, Berlioz at times seems less to be sending the dead to eternal rest than trying to wake them from their slumbers, particularly during the “Dies Irae”, “Tuba Mirum”, “Rex Tremendae Majestatis” and “Lacrimosa” sections.

There is, however, one major difference between Berlioz’s Requiem and Verdi’s, which was written nearly forty years later even though the age difference between the two men was only ten years. Verdi’s is a much more “operatic” work with numerous passages for both male and female soloists. Berlioz’s is much more “choral”; he only uses one soloist, a tenor, and that only in one movement. The orchestration, which makes great use of woodwind, brass and percussion, is reminiscent of that in Berlioz’s “Symphonie Funèbre et Triomphale”. The work requires great resources to perform; the premiere involved over four hundred performers, but Berlioz envisaged even more grandiose performances, with a chorus of “700 to 800 voices”.

There are numerous versions of this work available on CD, most of which I am not familiar with; I chose this one because Sir Colin Davis was known as a lover of, and expert on, Berlioz’s music, and I was not disappointed by an interpretation which captures the full power of the “Requiem”. The “Dies Irae” is appropriately wrathful and the “Rex Tremendae” appropriately fearful, the literal meaning of the Latin adjective “tremendus”. (The modern English word “tremendous” has weakened that meaning somewhat). The “Lacrimosa” does not sound particularly lachrymose, but then Berlioz never intended it to. These highly dramatic sections are counterbalanced by softer, gentler ones; the requiem mass is as much about God’s love as about His wrath. Berlioz may not have believed in these concepts literally, but that did not prevent him from responding to them on an emotional one. Listening to Davis and the LSO I could well understand why this was Berlioz’s favourite among his works; he said (as Beethoven did of “Fidelio”) that if all his works but one had to be destroyed, this is the one he would choose to save.
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on 4 May 2013
I agree entirely with the comment regarding the first reviewers pointless discussion of the recording. What about the music?!!!! As one would expect, in such a setting, a broader approach must be obligatory to ensure clarity but this is not at the expense of the wealth of experience that this maestro has and this must be accorded the necessary respect. Go and play with lasers and multi channel sound elsewhere and save this sonic verbosity for a boys toys forum. Splendid and magnificent in every respect. A fitting testament indeed.
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on 17 August 2013
Prompted by a review by Paul McGowan of PS Audio who played this set on his new ultragazillion dollar sound system - I ordered this CD set and found that its sonics - despite Mr. McGowan's 5 star review of this - to be disappointing. While I play my Decca Sound, Mahler + SF Symphony and remastered Solti Ring CDs at a more than acceptable - e.g., wonderful, setting with my Marantz amp volume at 9pm, even at 1 am the Berlioz lacks sufficient volume in the quiet spots with the louder passages being okay. Playing it through my PS Audio/CJ system where the DAC is usually set at 75% and the CJ Preamp at 33, changing these settings to 85% and 38 respectively still leaves much of the content of these CDs at levels that are unsatisfactory - e.g., quiet pieces can only be heard with difficulty. Is there an audiophile out there who can explain to me why the Berlioz has such low volume? I understand soundstage - but if the Decca engineers on both the Decca Sound Box set and the Solti can get such good, uniform sound with techniques that are 50 years or so old - what happened with this 2012 LSO recording?
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on 24 June 2014
I first heard this performance live on Radio 3, entirely by accident while I was working in Spain. I had picked up BBC radio through the hotel Wi-Fi on my iPod in the hope of hearing something nice before going down to dinner. I came in during the Dies Irae and was absolutely captivated by the drama of the performance, which was amazingly sure footed in the massive acoustic of what I subsequently discovered was St. Paul's Cathedral. Dinner was late.

Sir Colin Davis demonstrates that a lifetime of immersion in Berlioz has made him truly a master interpreter of that curious man's work. What a great loss to music was his death only two months after recording this work and how grateful am I that he lived long enough to direct this stunning performance of Berlioz's massive requiem.

The huge orchestral and vocal forces are exquisitely handled in the reverberant acoustic of the cathedral with a skill that must be something like handling a Formula 1 car and a supertanker at the same time. You are aware that at any moment it could all go horribly wrong, but it all works perfectly. This is a live performance (in fact, an amalgam of two, recorded on consecutive days) and has all the immediacy you would expect from that, but with the benefit of great sound engineering and a very considerate audience.

If you want to feel the hairs stand up on the back of your neck, listen out for the brushed cymbals in the Sanctus. Pure magic!
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on 15 December 2016
Good , but dynamics poor. You may have to be fiddling endlessly with the volume controls. To begin with you might not hear anything, turn the volume up and ....later on....
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on 12 August 2013
I first came aquainted with the Berlioz Requiem, around 1947, as a schoolboy visiting BBC's Maida Vale Studios,
where Sir Thomas Beecham conducted an overwhelming performance in the converted ice rink. Numerous later
performances, including Sir Colin's performance (and rehearsal) at St Paul's in 1969. Then he had acoustic and
timing problems with the four brass bands at the far extremties of the cathedral. Things were different for the
present recording, as he placed the brass bands on the four corners of the dome, near the main orchestra. Age
and experience of the acoustics produced a wonderully measured performance, but an unusual feature, not to
found on other recordings. The many tympani and percussion, placed in a line between the orchestra and choir,
completely overwhelmed the choir and most of the orchestra during the Dies Irae, both in performance and CD.
That said, as probably the greatest Berlioz conductor, we have both his last thoughts on this massive work, and
unfortunately what is also probably his last recording. A great way to go!
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on 22 January 2014
I purchased the old Colin Davis/ Ronald Dowd recording, which held sway for a quite a long time when there only very few recordings available. This is not an easy piece to record: the old recording was not of the best quality. Apparently, this new recording was made in St Paul's cathedral, not an easy venue, but the engineers have really pulled it off. As another reviewer says, the recording is better than many of those LSO Live recordings made in the Barbican. The Sanctus is really written too high for the tenor (who am I to criticise Berlioz?) making it very difficult to avoid strain in the voice. Barry Banks makes a very good attempt, rather better than Ronald Dowd was able to.
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on 29 April 2013
The reverberations of St Paul's Cathedral provide wonderful acoustics for this magnificent work, all too often recorded or performed in dull surroundings. They also provide an extra challenge for the performers, but there is no evidence of the Doppler effect often heard in Cathedrals when live. Unfortunately, the tempo in certain sections is a little ponderous, but I've come to expect that with Sir Colin Davis's work. His moans and groans can be heard occasionally, but that's no different than if you were at a live concert, This was ordered before his untimely death and I'm not sure if this was the last recording he made, but if it is, it's a wonderful memorial.
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on 12 January 2015
This is a very good version of the Berlioz magnum opus,though it is difficult to convey the impact of litening to it as I did recently at Gloucester Cathedral with orchestra, brass bands (there were I'm told 14 timps playing the one conitnuous passage which could be felt as much as heard) and chorus but this recording almost captures that.
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