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Grande Messe des Morts
London Symphony Orchestra, London Symphony Chorus, Sir Colin Davis
LSO LIVE LSO0729
“If you seek a monument, look around you.” So visitors to St Paul’s Cathedral, London are famously advised as they look for evidence of the architect, Sir Christopher Wren. So the crowd that gathered inside Wren’s masterpiece in June last year to witness this account of the Berlioz Requiem could well have been told “if you seek a monument to Sir Colin Davis, listen to this”. This utterly imposing performance of Berlioz’s grandest work was one of the last great triumphs of Sir Colin Davis’s long and illustrious career. That career, which spanned nearly sixty years, covered an astonishing breadth of repertory but he will be particularly remembered for his championing of Tippett, Sibelius and, of course, Berlioz.
In this account we hear all the fruits of Davis’s extensive performing experience and profound intimacy with this idiosyncratic yet evocative score. A master sound-sculptor, Davis ensures the work’s apocalyptic explosions of sounds are thrillingly executed but cleanly placed within the acoustic, whilst the numerous quieter splashes of orchestral colour are lovingly brought to the fore. The louder sections of the Dies irae, such as the Tuba mirum, Rex tremendae and Lacrymosa are literally breathtaking in their intensity; whilst the quiet, haunting opening of the Agnus Dei and the luminous conclusion of the Offertoire offer moving glimpses of eternity.
The combined choral forces handle the composer’s often outrageous vocal demands with aplomb and Barry Banks dispatches the difficult tenor solo in the Sanctus with both accuracy and emotion. All the instrumental forces (including the four brass bands) are well co-ordinated throughout. The engineering will tempt you to blast the neighbours! Here is a recording to treasure which takes its place alongside Sir Colin’s 1969 recording and Paul McCreesh’s recent version as the very best in the catalogue.