With so many great recorded performances of Berlioz's Requiem on the market, it may be hard to consider this live performance among the very greatest. But conductor Colin Davis has long been acknowledged to be one of the great living Berlioz interpreters, and he brings a lifetime of intimacy and affection to the performance. And though the Dresden Staatskapelle may or may not be one of the great Berlioz orchestras -- the recorded evidence is slim -- it is certainly one of the great European orchestras, and its refined tone, flawless technique, and faultless ensemble is fully on display here.
What really makes the difference, though, is the recording date: February 13, 1994. On that date in 1945, the city of Dresden was reduced to ruins by incendiary bombs dropped by the combined English and American air forces, and for the citizens of Dresden, that date, commemorated with annual concerts of suitable works, has taken on an almost religious significance. Thus, this particular performance was of more than merely aesthetic significance for the musicians, and the overwhelming emotional power and unbearable spiritual intensity of the performance is truly awe-inspiring. Tenor Keith Ikaia-Purdy is impressive in his impassioned Sanctus, the combined choruses are tremendously exciting throughout, and the live sound is thrilling, especially in the almost literally earth-shattering Dies Irae. In short, anyone who likes the work should at least hear this performance. It may or may not turn out to be a favorite in the long run, but it has more potential to move the listener than a performance without the same context.