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Thursday, November 21, 2019

Berlioz, Messe Solennelle, Le Concert Spirituel, Herve Niquet

My LP set of Berlioz's Messe Solennelle was from the first days of 33 rpm albums, on Cetra Records. I forgot who was on it, but it had a cavernous sound that gave you a very "big picture" yet then obscured some of the sound staging details. It gave me a good look at a masterful work that reminded me just how original Berlioz always managed to be regardless of the project at hand. It was not perfect. It is long gone so I have done without the music for a time.

These many years later I no longer have most of my vinyl (or slate) anymore and so when a new version with Herve Niquet conducting Le Concert Spirituel presented itself (Alpha Classics 564) I gladly availed myself of the chance. Not surprisingly it of course has the detailed soundstaging you expect today, with a natural ambiance and closer miking combined to get a good-location-in-the-house, catbird's seat take on the music and its highly dramatic ark of presentation. No other Mass sounds quite like this one and the detailed sonics and high-level performances we hear on this version reminds us how good all that can be with the right circumstances. This is such a one.

Praise is due for the fine performances of soprano Adriana Gonzalez, tenor Julien Behr and bass Andreas Wolf, all with a heroic demeanor that seems just right for this masterwork. The choir and orchestra sound perfectly matched and attuned to the special requirements of this music. It is neither too much nor too little, which means it neither throttles the music nor does it shake down the house, so to say. And that to my mind is an excellent reading for our "Modern" world..

It reminds us that the best Berlioz is so very French and so originally outside of the Beethoven Romantic Germanic orbit to stand on its own. Niquet works hard to ensure that the Berlioz vision rings out and rings true. There are no doubt others out there that may equal this recording for consistency and inspiration, but I must say that after quite a few listens I am satisfied that Niquet gets it all quite right and keeps it all very much alive.

Is Berlioz to Beethoven as Konitz was to Bird? Something to ponder.

Highly and gladly recommended as an essential.

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