Colin Davis

Berlioz: Requiem Op. 5 "Grande Messe des Morts"

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In the early '70s the major classical labels tried to duplicate their success with stereo recording by introducing a new technical breakthrough, variously known as quadriphonic, quadraphonic, or quadro recording, or simply quad sound. It demanded consumer investments that were both sophisticated and large, and thus failed in the marketplace. The format was undoubtedly well suited to certain classical works, however, and quad sound recordings have been issued with success in various new audiophile formats. The Berlioz Requiem, with its complement of 400 musicians and singers, was an ideal candidate for treatment in this medium, and this recording, made in 1969, was something of a milestone in its way. Its reissue here by the Netherlands-based PentaTone label is in five-channel super audio surround sound. It was sampled here on a good conventional stereo, but those who hear it may experience a strong urge to drop large sums on new stereo equipment; it is a stunning piece of engineering. Few engineers have made more of the Westminster Cathedral space. It's not so much that there's striking spatial separation: at least in conventional stereo the sound tends to blend rather than come at you from different directions. But the transparency of the sound in the big passages, like the mighty roar of the choir and the four separate brass ensembles at the words "tuba mirum spargens" (at the climax of CD 1, track 2) is awe-inspiring. You can hear bass trombones that will rattle your house more thoroughly in other audiophile recordings, but the ongoing flute-and-bass trombone texture in the Hostias (CD 2, track 3) has an almost otherworldly effect. The performances by the London Symphony under Colin Davis, at the peak of his career, are ideally suited to this treatment, emphasizing line and subtlety of timbre over the considerable available bombast. A superb gift for the audiophile at holiday time.

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