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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Hector Berlioz - Requiem (James Levine)


Composer: Hector Berlioz

  1. Grande Messe des morts, Op. 5: 1. Requiem - Kyrie
  2. Grande Messe des morts, Op. 5: 2. Dies irae - Tuba mirum
  3. Grande Messe des morts, Op. 5: 3. Quid sum miser
  4. Grande Messe des morts, Op. 5: 4. Rex tremendae
  5. Grande Messe des morts, Op. 5: 5. Quaerens me
  6. Grande Messe des morts, Op. 5: 6. Lacrymosa
  7. Grande Messe des morts, Op. 5: 7. Domine Jesu Christe
  8. Grande Messe des morts, Op. 5: 8. Hostias
  1. Grande Messe des morts, Op. 5: 9. Sanctus
  2. Grande Messe des morts, Op. 5: 10. Agnus Dei
  3. Le corsaire, Op. 21
  4. Benvenuto Cellini, opera, Op. 23: Overture
  5. Le carnaval romain, Op. 9

Luciano Pavarotti, tenor
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
James Levine, conductor

Date: 1989 (Requiem), 1991 (Overtures)
Label: Deutsche Grammophon



In his note to the present recording, elegantly describing Berlioz as ''sinfonista transcendentale'', Sergio Sablich makes the point that alongside all the grandeur of sound in the Requiem there is the softness and silence which are the other face of the Last Judgement and death. It is a pertinent remark, especially to this recording. Levine pays special attention to the quietness in the work, indeed seems to have less relish than most virtuoso conductors for the grim splendour of the Dies irae. Perhaps he has been influenced by the outstanding Ernst-Senff Chorus, who can rise to the challenge of Berlioz's fortissimos but are at their finest in responding to the different tonal characteristics which are suggested by the varied choral scoring in the quieter movements, as much part of the conception as the orchestral scoring.

However, the opening ''Requiem'' grows from silence with a dangerous smoothness, and there are places when Levine seems to be more concerned with beauty of sound than with drama and meaning; but there is much to admire here in the graded growth of tone, the steady pace, the clean intonation. These are not virtues to be lightly regarded, especially in so demanding a work, and they are flexible to many and various needs later. The ''Quid sum miser'' is beautifully sung, and ideally balanced against the cor anglais playing (though it sounds to my ear like a single instrument rather than Berlioz's requested pair: very difficult unison ensemble). The choir also sings the unaccompanied ''Quaerens me'' gently and reflectively, and balances well in the ''Hostias'' with those notorious flute and trombone chords: with the possible exception of the last, they come off magically here.

These are the finest movements in the performance. The Dies irae is more exciting in the old Sir Colin Davis/Philips recording, and there is a rare miscalculation in a very finely engineered performance when the bass drum smothers the choral basses. The bands are a little remote in the ''Tuba mirum'', perhaps by intention and as suggestion of a far encircling sound; but the immediacy of Davis's bands is more alarming. Incidentally, the note by D. Kern Holoman (also author of the valuable study Berlioz; Harvard: 1989) suggests that the idea first occurred to Berlioz for his abortive Mass; but this is not strictly true, as he must have been storing it up ever since hearing Gossec's Messe des Morts, in whose ''Tuba mirum'' there is something very similar though considerably tamer. Levine is a touch automatic with the snapping rhythms of the Lacrymosa, though the middle section goes excellently thanks in part to the superb tenor line. This is another example of fine and perceptive recording balance doing Berlioz good service: a further one comes with the complicated textures of the ''Rex tremendae''. The Sanctus is taken by Luciano Pavarotti. Apart from electing to pronounce ''Sabaoth'' as ''Sab-e-eth'', he sings with clear articulation, ringing tone, and fine sense of drama, though it is not perhaps a performance to lose sleep over.

-- John Warrack, Gramophone

More reviews:


Hector Berlioz (11 December 1803 – 8 March 1869) was a French Romantic composer, best known for his compositions "Symphonie fantastique" and "Grande messe des morts" (Requiem). Berlioz made significant contributions to the modern orchestra with his "Treatise on Instrumentation". He specified huge orchestral forces for some of his works, and conducted several concerts with more than 1,000 musicians. Although neglected in France for much of the 19th century, the music of Berlioz has often been cited as extremely influential in the development of the symphonic form, instrumentation, and the depiction in music of programmatic and literary ideas.


James Levine (born June 23, 1943 in Cincinnati, Ohio) is an American conductor and pianist. He is primarily known for his tenure as Music Director of the Metropolitan Opera, a position he held for 40 years (1976 to 2016). Levine has also held leadership positions with the Munich Philharmonic (199-2004) and the Boston Symphony Orchestra (2004-2011). Levine has recorded extensively with many orchestras and especially often with the Metropolitan Opera. He also appears on several dozen albums as a pianist, as well as performing chamber music.


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