Berlioz: Grande Messe des morts - Pappano

Berlioz: Grande Messe des morts - Pappano

RCO live  RCO 19006

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

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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Reviews (1)

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.

Copyright © 2021 John Broggio and


Sonics (Stereo):

Sonics (Multichannel):

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Comments (17)

Comment by Marcus DiBenedetto - September 11, 2021 (1 of 17)

The SACD for this performance is scheduled for release on October 1st, 2021. Downloads are available now. The original recording format is DXD and I downloaded the 5.0 multichannel version in 24/352.8 DXD from Native DSD. This is my 4th copy of Berlioz: "Grande Messe des morts". I was not disappointed adding this album to my collection. The overall performance is excellent but it is the subtle nuances that are breathtaking. The chorus is a combination of the Chorus of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia and the Netherlands Radio Choir. Chorus master, Ciro Visco, did a superb job melding these choirs. The best way I can describe their performance is the haunting, even dark, spiritual quality they add to many of the passages. Tenor Javier Camarena also performed magnificently. His voice beautifully communicated the Requiem's heartfelt condolences.

Jenny Camilleri from Opera Today attended the live performance at the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam on Friday, the 3rd of May, 2019. Her reaction? "Berlioz’s Requiem at the Concertgebouw – earthshakingly stupendous. ...The choir produced sumptuous, full-bodied harmonies, with defiantly percussive consonants in the ferocious Dies irae and Rex tremendae. The lyrical lines of the unaccompanied Quaerens me flowed like clear honey. Blanched, fearful murmurs receded into an almost tangible abyss, high voices shimmered in heaven-bound invocations." Read her entire review at

Marcus DiBenedetto
Las Vegas, NV

Comment by hiredfox - September 14, 2021 (2 of 17)

If recorded by Everett Porter than almost guaranteed to be superb SQ

Comment by Marcus DiBenedetto - September 14, 2021 (3 of 17)

Thanks John. Yes, Recording Engineers were Everett Porter and Karel Bruggeman (Assistant Engineer). I was not as familiar with Porter so I appreciate your insight.


Comment by hiredfox - September 19, 2021 (4 of 17)

Everett Porter has communicated on here quite frequently in the past. Polyhymnia - his parent company - has made the RCO recordings from the inception of their own label and Everett has recorded most of them.

Originally he recorded in DSD on Polyhymnia gear until space problems at the Concertgebouw forced a compromise. The Concertgebouw had previously recorded live concerts for local/national radio using PCM recording equipment. Sadly for us the compromise that Everett had to make was to use the Concertgebouw equipment, initially at 96/24. Simply, there was not room enough for two sets of recording gear in the recording studio!

The fact that PCM sampling rates have subsequently advanced to 192/24 and now it seems DXD is testimony (IMO) to the determination of Everett Porter to deliver the best possible SQ from his recordings and for their customers despite the local compromises. In that sense he is one of us, instinctively aware of the needs of our community.

I have always judged him to be on a par with John Newton and the Sound Mirror team.

Comment by Marcus DiBenedetto - September 22, 2021 (5 of 17)

I looked up his resume on the Polyhymnia website. He used to work with the Sound Mirror team. Very impressive. Thanks for all the background information.


Comment by Marcus DiBenedetto - January 4, 2022 (6 of 17)

Whew! Thank you John Broggio for your positive review of this album. I always stress a bit with commenting on albums not reviewed. Glad to see we agree. I listened to it again today (surround 5.0). Again, I am thrilled with the performance. The recording fills my soundstage in both width and depth. I would call it density. I keep my speakers five feet from my front wall. The entire area is filled with instruments and choir. The music, as reproduced here, is epic.

Comment by BRIAN SMITH - January 8, 2022 (7 of 17)

I agree with all the rave comments. However, there is a serious issue with four brass choirs that come in antiphonally in the second movement. There are supposed to be two brass bands up front to the side (fl and fr), and two brass bands (rl and rr) in the rear side. Instead, all four of the the brass bands are located up front. This is not a minor matter as it completely ruins one of Berlioz's finest effects and has been correctly recorded on other SACDs of this music - Gardner on Chandos, Spano of Telarc and Norrington. Considering the care that has been taken to record and perform this work, I suspect that this is an inadvertent editing error. If so, perhaps it could be corrected and disks reissued.

I'm sorry, but the bottom line on this recording is that it is a disappointment.

Brian Smith

Comment by john hunter - January 11, 2022 (8 of 17)

Will have to agree with Brian.
Why record and release in MC and then ignore the spatial effects that the composer wanted.
This is a great disappointment from such a well renowned recording team.

Comment by ged - January 12, 2022 (9 of 17)

According to Michael Steinberg in his book "Choral Masterpieces" Berlioz does not call for the brass choirs to be in the four corners of the hall. He calls for them to be placed at the four corners of the performing ensemble (orchestra & chorus).

Comment by BRIAN SMITH - January 12, 2022 (10 of 17)

The RCO Live description of this disc states "gigantic orchestration, including four brass ensembles distributed throughout the hall." The review also alludes to this. However, this is not how it was recorded both here. In the other mch recordings, they locate the bands side front and rear to fine effect. I am beating a dead horse at this point. As the saying goes "it is what it is."

Comment by hiredfox - January 14, 2022 (11 of 17)

Brian, it is unlikely in the extreme for the effects you have highlighted and objected to to have been an "editing error". I would say certainly not with the Polyhymnia team and what we hear on the recording is what the conductor wanted us to hear.

It would be at the Conductor's discretion to position the brass choirs in accordance with the composers intentions and his own interpretation of those intentions; those familiar with the Het Concertgebouw staging will understand this gave him some leeway when setting up his players for the recording. It would be nice to see pics of the recording session to confirm positioning.

Variety after all is the spice life.

Comment by BRIAN SMITH - January 14, 2022 (12 of 17)

Dear Mr Fox, -an attempt, probably in vain, to be humorous

You are quite correct - it is up to the conductor to decide where the brass instruments should be located. I looked at the photos included with the disc. These appear inconclusive - there is a brass band located in the balcony front left side and another more or less in the upper middle of the chorus. This seems weird, but, of course, is incomplete. My comment was that the playing of the four brass bands sounded so ineffective in comparison with other mch recordings of this music that it might have been due to an editing error.

The sound on this this disk is otherwise so good and performances so excellent, that is is really a shame that the antiphonal effects are lost. If you listen in stereo it does not matter, and perhaps it is of little concern even for some who listen in mch.

However, for me it is critical, and I think that the Gardiner on Chandos would be a better all-around choice.


Comment by john hunter - January 14, 2022 (13 of 17)

The photos with the disc clearly show that the brass choirs were, for the performances, along the sides.

Comment by Graham Williams - January 15, 2022 (14 of 17)

BRIAN SMITH you are quite correct in expressing your disappointment with the spatial effects on this recording, and I agree wholeheartedly with your findings.
Those listening in multichannel (and that does not include hiredfox who has often avowed stereo is better and has as far as I am aware has a two channel system ) will not experience what Berlioz intended. Both Gardiner and Norrington are sonically superior in spatial terms. though I have no problems the the Pappano performance which is very fine indeed.

Comment by hiredfox - January 16, 2022 (15 of 17)

Hi. Just to confirm that I am a stereo listener as Graham recalls correctly. I will listen to the disc again, it's quite a while since my last 'audition'.

Comment by Eric M Nagamine - January 21, 2022 (16 of 17)

If it was done in concert, the brass bands may have been placed to accommodate the conductor and the Hall. I've seen Rafael Frubeckh de Burgos do the work with the Boston Symphony in Symphony Hall where the bands were placed on stage. The Concertgebouw is a live hall and the set up may have well been done to coordinate the performers.

Comment by Marcus DiBenedetto - January 27, 2022 (17 of 17)

Trying to clear up some confusion. Jenny Camilleri writing for Opera Today, attended the live performance. She writes in her review "... the number of instruments in the brass bands, two flanking the onstage organ and two at the extreme ends of the balcony, had been halved.". She was extremely impressed with the performance but I thought it would be helpful to note her description of the brass band locations. Read the review here:

I have the Gardner version as well. Indeed the rear brass bands play through my rear surround speakers. Overall, I tend to prefer the Pappano version. They are both quite good.

Marcus DiBenedetto
Las Vegas, NV