Berlioz at His Most Essential

Incredible singing and playing make this album a worthy addition to your collection.

Composer: Berlioz

Repertoire: Grande Messe des Morts
Artist: Robert Murray, Gabrieli Consort and Players, Ensemble Wrocław/Paul McCreesh
Rating: 5/5

Genre: Vocal

Label: Winged Lion/Signum SIGCD280

The Music: Commissioned in 1837 by the French Minister of the Interior, Berlioz’s monumental requiem setting was intended to commemorate soldiers supportive of the winning side in the July revolution of 1830. The composer fashioned an archetypal work of romantic extremes, involving four offstage brass bands, 16 timpani in its cataclysmic ‘Tuba Mirum’ section and equally arresting passages of introspective stillness.

The Performance: The conductor’s Gabrieli Consort and Players join forces here with the impressive Wrocław Philharmonic Orchestra, native choristers raised on the local Wratisłavia Cantans Festival and young musicians from Chetham’s School of Music. McCreesh brings new life to Berlioz’s choral warhorse. His singers apply French pronunciation to the Latin text, not as a gimmick but as an intrinsic element of the interpretation’s tonal palette. For sure, nothing beats the live Berlioz requiem experience. But this recording’s impact, its rich surface detail, underlying drama and revelatory turns of phrase offer the next best thing. 

The Verdict: Anyone in search of a transformative listening experience, Berlioz agnostics among them, should make this release a priority purchase. Expect to hear terrific choral singing and an uncommonly close corporate involvement in the ritual of making music.

Want More? Head straight for Sir Colin Davis’s superb second recording of Berlioz’s five-act opera Les Troyens (LSO Live, LSO 0010).