Presto News - 3rd October 2011
Berlioz's Grande Messe des Morts from Paul McCreesh
Dating from 1837, Berlioz’s Grande Messe des Morts was one of the composer’s most important works. He had always wanted to compose a setting of the Requiem text so when he received a commission he threw himself into the project with much enthusiasm. Its first performance earned the still relatively young composer much prestige (if not money) and although he only performed it twice more in his lifetime, he later said that if all but one of his works were to be consumed in a terrible fire, this would be the one he would save.
So what makes it such an amazing work and why is the new recording out today from Paul McCreesh and his Anglo-Polish musicians such essential listening?
Well, the scale of the piece is epic: calling for an orchestra including 16 timpani, bass drums, massed gongs and cymbals, four flutes, oboes and clarinets, eight bassoons, 12 horns, a string section of over 100, and a chorus of at least 210 singers. Oh, and did I mention the four separate brass ensembles positioned at the four corners of stage, one of which requires four ophicleides. The sound is immense, and there are one or two moments in this piece where the word apocalyptic does not feel out of place.
Yet despite this, the work has many tender and intimate passages, which feel deeply religious and quite moving. Berlioz demonstrates all his genius in orchestration, with hauntingly plaintive parts like the Quid sum miser (sound samples via the link below) scored for solo cor anglais, solo bassoon and male chorus, and the decision to use unaccompanied chorus for the Quaerens Me in the manner of a 16th century motet provides much contrast and repose compared to what comes before and after it.
Indeed, contrasts seem a central theme in the work, with operatic elements going against the deep religious aspect, high drama against stillness and reflection, and the most earth shattering tuttis against the quietist pianissimos.
Like in many of his works, a successful performance depends significantly on the ability to understand and communicate the composer’s remarkable sense of colour. Frequently scoring instruments in the extremes of their range or asking for unusual playing techniques, Berlioz achieves textures that are truly unique to him.
McCreesh’s orchestra is made up of wind and brass from the UK (Gabrieli players plus extras and members of the Chetham’s School of Music Symphonic Brass Ensemble), strings from Poland (including members of the Wroclaw Philharmonic Orchestra plus extras) and a choir made up of both nationalities. McCreesh has gone to significant efforts to use as many historic instruments as is practically possible, and this contributes significantly to the success of this recording. The variety of colours which the historic brass and percussion instruments achieve is astonishing: natural trumpets with their brilliantly open sound, narrow bore trombones with the clear attack, high and low horns in a wide variety of keys as well as more unusual instruments like French valved cornets and of course the ophicleides. Combined, the sound is noticeably different from modern instrument recordings, and all the more exciting because of it.
The tempos are generally fairly slow and weighty, but it never feels unduly held, and with the wonderfully warm and reverberant (yet still clear) acoustic of the St Mary Magdalene Church in Wroclaw, McCreesh’s speeds work perfectly. The chorus – singing in French Latin rather than the usual Italian Latin – are outstanding, singing beautifully throughout yet with real punch when required.
Released under the name ‘Winged Lion’ as a sort of sub-label on the established Signum records, this is the first of a series of new recordings which the Gabrieli Consort and Paul McCreesh will make, and those like me who so enjoyed their Elijah at the Proms this year will be pleased to know that it has already been recorded and should be released sometime next year.
But plenty of time to enjoy this one first. It comes with my highest recommendation, and I’d really urge you to explore it (particularly as it is in our 30% off offer at the moment!). Sound samples as usual below.
Berlioz: Grande Messe des Morts, Op. 5 (Requiem)
Gabrieli Consort and Players, Paul McCreesh
Chris O'Reilly - email@example.com
3rd October 2011
Anna Netrebko: Live at the Metropolitan Opera
Anna Netrebko (soprano), Metropolitan Opera Orchestra & Chorus
The forthcoming season marks the 10th anniversary of Anna Netrebko’s debut with the Metropolitan Opera, New York. The new album celebrates this milestone by bringing together her greatest MET moments throughout the past 10 seasons – performances never before issued on record and most never commercially released on any format.
JC Bach: Missa da Requiem & Miserere
Lenneke Ruiten (soprano), Ruth Sandhoff (alto), Colin Balzer (tenor) & Thomas Bauer (bass), Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin & RIAS Kammerchor, Hans-Christoph Rademann
After an acclaimed disc of Johann Ludwig Bach, Hans-Christoph Rademann continues his fascinating exploration of the most famous musical dynasty. Born in 1735, the ‘London Bach’ was the youngest of Johann Sebastian’s sons. He seems to have remained in his father’s shadow until the age of 19, when he had the chance to travel to Italy, very likely to receive guidance from the celebrated Padre Martini, as his (future) friend Mozart was to do some years later. It was in Milan that he wrote the two works recorded here, including an incredible Requiem with a completely unexpected formal design; in matters of style, however, the 22-year-old composer had already laid the foundations of all his later output.
Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 6, 8 & 9
Angela Hewitt (piano), Orchestra da Camera di Mantova
The phenomenal Angela Hewitt embarks upon another Hyperion journey, this time through the piano concertos of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
The twenty-seven concertos for piano and orchestra contain some of the composer’s greatest achievements. Concertos Nos 6 and 8, two of the young Mozart’s earliest attempts at the genre, display a perfection of form and an elegant purity. Concerto No 9, the ‘Jeunehomme’, remarkably written in 1777 when Mozart was 21, is considered to be the composer’s first great masterpiece.
Falvetti: Il diluvio universale
Cappella Mediterranea & Namur Chamber Choir, Leonardo Garciá Alarcón
Il diluvio universale has lain forgotten for three centuries and displays an originality unparalleled in the history of the Italian oratorio. What image is more powerful than the Flood for a composer, choirmaster of a city ravaged by earthquakes and tidal waves? In 1682, this was the theme that inspired Michelangelo Falvetti to write his oratorio, in Messina, Sicily.
Nicola Benedetti: Italia
Nicola Benedetti (violin), Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Christian Curnyn
Nicola Benedetti’s debut album on the Decca label is her first recording of baroque violin repertoire. Recorded in Edinburgh, the album celebrates Nicola Benedetti’s Scottish-Italian heritage as she plays virtuoso Italian masterpieces, accompanied by the leading chamber orchestra of her native country.
My True Love Hath My Heart: English Songs
Sarah Connolly (mezzo-soprano) & Malcolm Martineau (piano)
Here the mezzo-soprano, accompanied by Malcolm Martineau on piano, performs four arrangements by Benjamin Britten: three folk songs and one song from an early choral work. Next come eleven songs from the 1920s, which is considered the golden decade for English art songs. The most recent contribution to this disc of English Songs is the surreally retro A History of the Thé Dansant by Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, which was published in 1995.
Vivaldi: Cello Concertos
Jean-Guihen Queyras (cello), Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, Georg Kallweit
Alongside the famous Quattro Stagioni, La Notte, and so on, Vivaldi wrote no fewer than 27 concertos for the cello – an instrument which at the time was generally limited to playing basso continuo. With the genuine virtuosi he had available to him at the Ospedale della Pietà, the Red Priest played a key role in the emancipation of the cello, which so readily inspired him to invent varied figuration.
Tchaikovsky: Symphonies Nos. 4, 5 & 6
Mariinsky Orchestra, Valery Gergiev
Valery Gergiev is widely recognised as the greatest modern interpreter of Tchaikovsky’s music and the Mariinsky holds a peerless reputation in the repertoire. Together they deliver definitive interpretations of Tchaikovsky’s most popular symphonies. These acclaimed performances were filmed at Salle Pleyel in Paris during January 2010, directed by Andy Sommer.
Also available on blu-ray.
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