Berlioz: Grande Messe des morts - Pappano
RCO live RCO 19006
Classical - Vocal
Berlioz: Grande Messe des morts
Javier Camarena (tenor)
Coro dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam
Antonio Pappano (conductor)
Berlioz composed his Requiem at the request of a French government minister to commemorate the soldiers who died in the July Revolution in 1830. The Requiem would become one of Berlioz’s most popular works, among other things because of its imaginative instrumentation and gigantic orchestration, including four brass ensembles distributed throughout the hall. The work was also dear to the composer’s own heart. He once said, ‘If someone were to threaten to destroy all my works, I would beg for mercy on behalf of my Grande messe des morts.’
This awe-inspiring work is in good hands with conductor Antonio Pappano, whose refinement, energy and drama, usually put to good use in the opera house, are exactly what the performance of this French mammoth calls for. The Chorus of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia is supporting the Concertgebouworkest, and the solo tenor is the Mexican singer Javier Camarena.
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Review by John Broggio - December 31, 2021
This recording presents a good balance between the musical refinement of Berlioz: Grande Messe des morts - Davis and the stunning presentation of Berlioz: Grande Messe des morts - Norrington.
On a prosaic note, the accounts of both Norrington and Davis are presented on 2 discs each; Pappano's generally swifter tempo choices allow this account to use a single disc. This is not reflected in any driven sections for the individual choices are similar to either Norrington or Davis; Pappano just consistently opts afor tempo choices of each movement that are the quicker of the other two wonderful accounts. For instance, the second movement (Dies irae - Tuba mirum) has a similar pace to Norrington's account whereas the concluding Agnus Dei is much closer to the conception of Davis.
Throughout the work, Pappano's preferred approach is far removed from Norrington's. Where Norrington use techniques like deliberately thin tone to accentuate the originality of Berlioz's orchestrations, Pappano steers well away from trying to evoke a HIP-style approach. As apparent from the opening cello lines, Pappano adopts a more "traditional" approach to phrasing and tone production that places this account very firmly in the Davis camp; this is conceived more in paragraphs than individual lines - a definite case of being more than the sum of the parts. And the parts are incredible - some of the timbres and instrumental combinations are unique even to Berlioz.
Containing a lot of the most remarkable sections of the work, the second movement has adjacent passages with hugely varied sonority both within the musicians on the platform and the spatially distributed extra brass players. Pappano here manages to successfully let these passages flow from one into another; by contrast, Norrington's sounds as disjointed as it the score looks at times. There is also no doubting the quality of the musical response; other accounts have (minor) flaws in ensemble at some of the most complex moments but not from the extended RCO. The choral response is also first rate and is as rewarding as the orchestral playing. As exciting as the music making is in stereo, there is an additional frisson in multichannel as it accurately reflects the spatial distribution of the extra musicians (shown in a photo from the concerts); indeed, it is almost overwhelming.
Javier Camarena's contribution in the Sanctus is fully in keeping with the high musical standards in this account; the way the orchestral accompaniment envelopes his sensitive and dramatic incantations is wonderfully done. Like Davis, Pappano also manages to achieve suitable repose and pathos in the concluding Agnus Dei; for those comparing timings with Norrington, please be aware that roughly 1 minute of Norrington's "largesse" is applause which is not included here.
With a more liberal use of vibrato in both chorus and orchestra, one might be concerned that the textures are not ideally clear; if anything, the textures here are clearer here than in either the Norrington and Davis accounts while being rich which is a wonderful testament to all the musicians and the engineering team. From the merest whispers to the shattering climaxes, this is a recording which will reward anyone's system; in multichannel listening, we are treated to a overt surround sound presentation in places that is thrilling.
This is now my "reference" account of this extraordinary and rewarding work.
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