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I wish I could endow this recording with more than five stars.
on 15 March 2013
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...!