Barenboim, Mozart, Bruckner Choral: Really A Great Performan
Dan Fee | Berkeley, CA USA | 10/18/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"On this red book CD we get two really great performances of the past century.
First, Mozart's Requiem gets a traditional, grand reading - complete with the English Chamber Orchestra plus the John Alldis Choir plus exceptional solo singers who will be hard to match so long as recordings exist. The John Alldis Choir must be singled out for praise, as if we did not already know how well they sing on recordings. The chorus has a wide, large sound - and given the traditional approach, entirely apt to the slower tempos and room for inflection and detail and heft of this reading of Mozart's Requiem. Using a modern band and chorus would promise to put the solo singers in small scale, if not for the particular singers this reading uses. Soprano Sheila Armstrong, famous mezzo Janet Baker, refined-classy tenor Nicolai Gedda, and to round the group of soloists off, famous-refined-classy bass-baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Alone and together these singers offer as knowing an account of their music as any available current recording of the requiem offers to listeners. Fischer-Dieskau sings the only Tuba Mirum that masters all the passing difficulties - tessitura, leaps, legato, heft, and text. In too many other outings, I always find the composer's idea beyond the actual reach of too many basses or baritones. In fact all the other singers in this reading are as fine as Fischer-Dieskau.
I must admit that I can take or leave Barenboim's leadership on occasion. Here he keeps a purposeful, consistent musical grip while still letting all the available performance talent gather and flow through him and past him into greatness. He wisely does not try to interfere or unduly conduct his outstanding chorus and soloists. He sets traditional broad tempos that are still yet not too slow, and then he just gets properly out of the way and lets everything open and unfold.
In the Bruckner Te Deum that finishes off this disc, we get Barenboim leading the New Philharmonia plus New Phlharmonia Chorus plus another set of four very good soloists. Soprano Anne Pashley, contralto Birgit Finnila, tenor Robert Tear, and bass Don Garrard do not have the jet-set singer reputations of the Mozart Requiem soloists. But individually and together they do so well that who cares if they are not household, music-label brand names as if buzz were all?
In the past I have sometimes felt that I did not quite get Bruckner's Te Deum. The F minor mass immediately speaks to me, grabs me musically, by comparison. This time I must admire Barenboim's leadership as even more of a musical factor in this reading - as he molds and shapes the work in ways which at last musically grab me and speak. Given how expressive and whole this Te Deum comes across, I begin to be gathered in by the composer's offhand remark that maybe the Te Deum could be the missing, final movement of the splendid Ninth Symphony.
The venue is All Saint's Tooting. A churchly space, then. Fit to the religious music at hand. The Abbey Road remastering has cleaned up and balanced the sound, though surely the point of this disc is not so much splashy demonstration sound as sheer musical values. I would still dearly love to hear a good super audio remastering of EMIs vaults so full of really great performances - but so far EMI simply does not seem to want to get involved with super audio remastering. Still SACD could possibly be a further sound revelation for performances of lasting musical worth such as this one, if for example the Sony SACD remastering of Ormandy's Verdi Requiem or of Bruno Walter's Beethoven and Brahms are any true hints.
Bravo again. In fact - Bravo all around. Get this one before it disappears. Check out Barenboim's red book CD coupling of the JS Bach Magnificat and Faure's Requiem in similarly big band traditional readings with similarly fine chorus and soloists."