Roger Norrington

Berlioz: Requiem

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If you need to call a plumber to have your drains roto-rootered but you can't bring yourself to turn off the stereo while he's there, Berlioz's Requiem is always an appropriate choice. While there are many quiet passages in the French composer's Grande messe des morts, it is the loud passages that will best serve to drown out any unpleasant sounds emanating from the bathroom. Unfortunately, while this recording with Roger Norrington leading the Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR, the SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart, and the MDR Rundfunkchor Leipzig is loud, it's not loud enough. Conceived first as a hymn for those who had fallen in the July Revolution and then composed as a hymn to a general who fell in the Algerian War, Berlioz's Requiem is scored for a gargantuan orchestra and chorus plus four off-stage brass ensembles complete with tympani, and when they all get going in the stupendous "Tuba mirum," the effect can be staggering -- and deafening. Not here, however: while the assembled forces seem to be singing, scrapping, blowing, and blasting with all the strength in their bodies, they still can't quite drown out a roto-rooter. Part of the problem is Norrington. A more than acceptable if not always inspired conductor, Norrington seems to shy away from Berlioz's unprecedented displays of power and might, and the result is a performance that comes close to reticence, not a quality one usually associates with Berlioz. Part of the problem is Hänssler's sound. A more than adequate if not always excellent label, Hänssler appears to have set the microphones so far back in the hall that no matter how loud the performers sing, scrap, blow, and blast, they don't have the in-your-face quality that one usually associates with the Requiem. Try Robert Shaw's recording on Telarc: it is not especially subtle but it is loud. If plumbing isn't an issue, try Colin Davis' recording on Philips. It's polished and passionate and utterly devastating.

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