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16 Sep 2007
Hector Berlioz: Te Deum, op. 22
Often overshadowed by its composer's Requiem, the Te Deum, Op. 22 (1849) by Hector Berlioz deserves attention for its own merits, and this recent release by Hänssler in its series of live recordings of the Staatskapelle Dresden is a solid reading of this work.
Known for his famous cycle of Berlioz's works on for Philips, Sir Colin Davis led a focused performances of the Te Deum on 3 and 4 October 1998 in Kreuzkirche, Dresden, and this recording is derived from those concerts, which involved several choruses, including the Dresden State Opera Chorus, Dresden Symphonie Chorus, Dresden Singakademie, the Dreden Philharmonic Children's Chorus, and the Dresden State Opera Children's Chorus, as well as tenor soloist Neill Stuart, and organist Hans-Dieter Schöne.
In setting the Te Deum, Berlioz used a multi-movement structure to emphasize the various nuances of the text that simultaneously suggest a symphonic approach to the work. The opening "Te Deum" is a majestic movement that anticipates the grandeur familiar to modern audiences in the first movement of Mahler's Eighth Symphony. In the "Te Deum" movement Berlioz arrives at the sonic splendor fitting to a text that addresses the Deity directly. Organ, chorus. and orchestra work together to create a massed sound in which the textures serve to underscore the orchestration and voicing of the individual forces involved. After such a beginning, the "Tibi omnes" section in the second movement is contrastingly meditative in character, like the slow movement of a symphony. Its controlled expressed demonstrates' Berlioz's ability to achieve an effective mood with much smaller forces and to sustain the mood in underscoring the text.
While the organ is heard at various places throughout the Te Deum, it is prominent in the third section, the "Dignare," and this recording captures its sound well. The blend between the chorus and organ is nicely balanced, with the instrument supporting the voices without overshadowing them. Similarly, the tenor, Neill Stuart, has an extended solo part in the penultimate movement, "Te ergo quaesumus," and the interplay between the solo voice and orchestra or, variously, with chorus, emerges clearly to show Stuart's fine tone. Such clarity is never compromised in the tutti movements, the first, fourth, and final ones, in which the entire forces join in the sometimes complex textures Berlioz used for those texts. The sound is evenly reliable, as one would expect from a recording made in a studio. This is all the more admirable for recordings made live and also challenged by the special circumstances of performing in a church.
Moreover, Colin Davis brought his deft approach to Berlioz's music to these performances, and the recording shows the focus that he can give this work. His tempos are clear and always allow the text to be heard clearly, including those massive places where all the choruses must come together in this paean to the Deity. The balance between the orchestra, which alternately supports and comments on the vocal music, is laudable. This is a fine recording of a work by Berlioz that requires such a thoughtful approach to bring all its components together convincingly.
This recording also includes a performance, presumably from the same concerts, of Mozart's Kyrie, K. 341, which receives an equally fine reading here. Taken together, the two works are a fine contribution to the ongoing series of live recordings of the Staatskapelle Dresden led by Sir Colin Davis. As such, they preserve some fine performances and also make them available to a wider audience through their availability on CD.
James L. Zychowicz