BERLIOZ: Requiem Op. 5 (Grande Messe des Morts) – Charles Bressler, tenor/ Univ. of Utah Civic Chorale/ Univ. of Utah A Capella Choir/ Utah Symphony Orchestra/ Maurice Abravanel – Vanguard/Classic Records

by | Nov 15, 2005 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

BERLIOZ: Requiem Op. 5 (Grande Messe des Morts) – Charles
Bressler, tenor/ Univ. of Utah Civic Chorale/ Univ. of Utah A Capella
Choir/ Utah Symphony Orchestra/ Maurice Abravanel – Vanguard/Classic
Records – DVD-A, Dolby Digital 4.0., 192K stereo DVD-A, 96K stereo DVD
Video (2 discs) HDAD 2012, 1 hour 23:35  ****:

The highly programmatic Berlioz Requiem is not the first composition
created especially for performance live in surround sound, but it is
surely the best known and probably most dramatic of any.  It was a
natural choice for one of the first classical quadraphonic
recordings.  Vanguard Records began releasing both quadraphonic
LPs and open reel four-track tapes in the early 70s.  The Requiem
was part of the Utah Symphony’s perusal of the Mahler Symphonies, and
the recording session took place in the spacious acoustics of the
Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City in 1969.  Abravanel had
developed the Utah Symphony from almost nothing into a well-respected
orchestra which made international tours and whose recordings received
much acclaim.

The Berlioz Requiem shares with the work in the same form by Verdi as
highly theatrical and emotional, especially in their musical
representations of the Last Judgment. Berlioz was far ahead of his time
in all his music, fueled by a boundless imagination.  He conceived
the idea of spatial separation of the massive performing forces,
especially in the Last Judgment section, with choruses spread out,
eight tuned tympani, and four brass choirs at the points of the
compass. As he said himself, “the combination would be entirely new,
and a thousand possibilities which could not be realized with usual
means, could be drawn out of these sounding masses.”  The moment
in the Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) when the brass choirs blare out the
Last Trump from the four corners of the listening area is one of the
most hair-raising moments in classical music and the best surround demo
an audiophile could hope for. The Utah version may not quite match more
recent ones from Colin Davis and others, but those are all merely in
stereo and this one is made to order for surround!

I was torn as to where to list this album in this publication – it has
qualities that seem to all for any of three of our sections: hi-res,
reissues and DualDisc. One really gets two DualDiscs here. There are
two discs but the DVD-Video sides have no video displays at all, only
the audio. The two discs represent one for multichannel sources and the
other for two-channel sources. The multichannel has one side 24-bit/96K
DVD-Audio and the other side Dolby Digital 4.0 for those users with a
standard DVD video player only.  The stereo DVD has one side
DVD-Audio but with a two-channel-only 192K mix – rather than depending
on the DVD-Audio system practice of mixing down to two-channel from the
multichannel. The other side of this disc is a 96K PCM stereo feed,
such as the few DAADs that have been issued by Classic and a few other
labels.   Of course both of these discs had to be DVDs, since
the Requiem is way over the 80 minute capacity limit of both CDs and
SACDs, and would have required two discs for each of the four options
furnished here.

This same four-channel original was first released in a hi-res format
by Vanguard themselves on SACD.  Something went wrong because it
suffered from serious distortion in climaxes.  I owned the
original four-channel prerecorded tapes and thus am quite familiar with
the recording.  It was thrilling on four matching speakers back in
the 70s, slightly compromised only by tape hiss (no Dolby and one of
the open reels was half-mil super-thin tape!).  Last year the new
owners of the Vanguard masters – Artemis Classics – reissued the
double-SACD set, and this time they got it right.

Careful comparison of the Artemis SACDs with the new Classic
four-channel DVD-A showed no noticeable audible differences.  So
for those multichannel aficionados with universal disc players the only
advantage of the Classic would be its elimination of the break to go to
the second disc.  This also goes for the 96K/24-bit option; I
found it very similar to the stereo mix provided on the Artimis
SACDs.  Next I did some A/B-ing of the 96K options vs. the 192K
option.  This was approaching the hairsplitting, but on certain
portions of the more subtle choral passages it soon became clear that
the 192K version had a modicum of greater transparency and fine detail.
Switching to the Dolby Digital AC-3 four-channel side provided a much
quicker decision as to differences.  It was definitely muddier,
more constricted and opaque-sounding than the DVD-A multichannel option
– especially noticeable in the big climaxes when both choruses and
orchestra were going full blast.  So those strict two-channel fans
who have either a DVD-Audio or universal player will find this release
of interest due to the 192K disc side.  And those without playback
of either hi-res format but with a standard DVD player will also want
this reissue because SACDs do not provide a Dolby Digital option, and
it will at least give them a good impression of the most exciting
classical music in surround around.

– John Sunier

Related Reviews
Logo Pure Pleasure
Logo Crystal Records Sidebar 300 ms
Logo Jazz Detective Deep Digs Animated 01