BERLIOZ: Requiem, Op. 5 – Nicolai Gedda, tenor/ Choir of N. German Radio/ Cologne Radio Choir/ Cologne Radio Sym. Orch./ Dimitri Mitropoulos – ICA Classics ICAC 5075, 82:12 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:
ICA unearths a rare, real treasure in the performance (26 August 1956) in Cologne, Germany of the 1837 Berlioz Requiem by Dimitri Mitropoulos (1896-1960), a second performance of the work he had given a month earlier in Salzburg (15 July 1956) in memory of Wilhelm Furtwaengler. Mitropoulos’ natural fiery temperament coincides well with the music of Berlioz, and his recorded legacy extends beyond the Symphonie Fantastique, Les Nuits d’Ete, and orchestral selections from Romeo et Juliette that he bequeathed us commercially. Those familiar with the NBC broadcasts know of his King Lear Overture; and the New York Philharmonic has a performance of the Rob Roy Overture. The Requiem with Leopold Simoneau from Salzburg has been issued in several incarnations. Whether a tape exists from New York of the collaboration with William Lincer in the Harolde in Italie Symphonie remains a matter of conjecture.
From the first, the hugely-mounted Cologne performance of the Berlioz Requiem evinces the Berlioz self-proclaimed requisites: “passionate expression, intense ardor, rhythmical animation, and unexpected turns.” The sheer scale of the Dies Irae cannot be contained by the standard mono CD medium, so vast are the sonic components of brass, strings, tympani, and choruses. The four corners of the earth announce the Day of Judgment, and apocalyptic does rage the mass of sound. The plaintive combination of two English horns, bassoons, and double basses and reduced men’s chorus provides an eerie aftermath to Judgment in the Quid sum miser, intimate but emotionally desolate. A huge “Rex!” ensues, with Mitropoulos’ urging some degree of optimism in the mixed chorus’ beseeching for Eternal mercy. A cappella, the Quarens me offers another plaintive moment of reflection, a moment Verdi would copy in the first of his own Four Sacred Pieces. The muted voices concluding the movement strike me as particularly effective.
With the 9/8 Lachyrmosa, we reach the convulsive center of the Requiem. Mitropoulos’ heated fervor in this movement makes us forget any sense of the sonata-form that would like to contain the anguish in convention. If a visual analogy can exist here, we would have to read sections from Dante, the added brass and tympani’s contributing to a delirium, a paroxysm of penitence. Both mystical and obsessive, the Offertory repeats a musical triumvirate A-B-flat-A throughout after Domine Jesu Christe while on of Berlioz’s patented serpentine melodies weaves its course. The sudden thrusts of sound might well represent the piercings on the cross. Male voices, trombones, flutes, and strings invoke the inward Hostias, concluding the Offertory proper. Swedish tenor Nicolai Gedda (b. 1925), who would later appear with Mitropoulos in Barber’s opera Vanessa, intones with clarion diction for the Sanctus, in concert with the flute and women’s voices. The triune nature of spiritual majesty emanates from the fugal writing that develops at the Hosanna in excelsis, with added cymbals and bass strings. By the time Mitropoulos has led us through the conciliatory Agnus Dei and Communion, we must concur with the composer, who claimed, “If I were threatened with the destruction of the whole of my works save one, I should crave mercy for the Messe des morts.”
Finally, at over 80 minutes of recorded music, this ICA product has expanded the CD medium in virtually every way conceivable. A Best of the Year entry, without a doubt!
Inspired and Inspiring…