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Berlioz: Requiem; La Mort De Cleopatre; Ouverture Du Carnaval Romain

Berlioz / Sabbatini / Urmana / De Billy
Release Date: 09/27/2005 
Label:  Oehms   Catalog #: 906   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Hector Berlioz
Performer:  Giuseppe SabbatiniVioleta Urmana
Conductor:  Bertrand De Billy
Number of Discs: 2 
Length: 1 Hours 53 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Through the 1990s, Bertrand de Billy forged an international reputation as a jet-setting guest conductor leading to appearances at the Met from 1997 and appointment as principal conductor of the Teatro del Liceu in Barcelona in 1999, a post he relinquished to become principal conductor of the RSO Vienna in 2002. He loomed over my horizon with a Toscanini-like flair as conductor of Roberto Alagna’s superb Berlioz album (Fanfare 26:6 and the Want List in 27:2) leaving me avid to hear more—especially more Berlioz. Meanwhile, as a recording artist, recognition lifted him from the ghetto of the recital time-beater and man-of-all-work to conductor of d’Albert’s Tiefland, Thomas’s Hamlet, Verdi’s Don Carlos, and recent DVDs of Wagner’s Ring and Read more Tristan, which are garnering critical acclaim—a meteoric ascension. So, what have we here?

Taken live, with the audience audible throughout, but not distracting—lending a sense of occasion—de Billy’s Requiem is briskly paced, though he’s not racing Robert Spano’s recent spanking account with the Atlanta Symphony and Chorus—so fast, in fact, that it fit on a single disc (Telarc CD-80627, Fanfare 28:2). And if de Billy’s reading of the Rex tremendae and Lacrymosa manages more crackle with greater choral heft than Spano’s, his approach is dramatic rather than sensational. The Offertorium, for instance, is propulsive but never approaches the hustling caricature Spano makes of it. Spano’s Tuba mirum is closer and more brilliant, but Telarc’s entire production was geared toward the sonic spectacular where de Billy’s did not allow close collaboration with the engineers—sound is generally well-balanced and richly detailed, full if never quite walloping, in an aural frame sufficiently wide to encompass the enormity of the grandiose movements, yet close enough to render the hushed supplications without losing immediacy. In the Sanctus, both feature tenors tremulous with operatic emotion, though Sabbatini’s ringing bluster, for de Billy, protests too much, clashing incongruously with its ethereal choral complement. Berlioz, who knew tenorissimo all too well, suggested an alternative of 10 tenors to animate his rapt cantilena with the requisite impersonality. The effect is achieved by Charles Bressler in a recent re-release of Maurice Abravenal’s 1969 quad go at the Requiem (Silverline Classics DVD 288236, Fanfare 28:3), though the archetype is Leopold Simoneau for Munch with the BSO. De Billy’s reading of the Hosanna as an aggressive march seems the one false step in an otherwise exemplary performance. To sort it out, Spano means to startle and amaze, Abravenal touches religious profundity in alternations of hush and grandeur, and de Billy draws out the throbbing terror of judgment.

La mort de Cléopâtre and the Roman Carnival Overture are less happy—filler rather than discographic gains. Lithuanian soprano Violeta Urmana began as a mezzo—her velvety darkness and brilliant top lose seductiveness and acquire a voice-in-the-ambient-wilderness aura in a relatively distant aural perspective, while De Billy’s generally moderato handling of this volatile scene lacks spark, turning to dogged plodding in the grandly somber “Grands Pharaons.” Nor does the Roman Carnival exhibit more than routine pizzazz. Both are couched in sound allowing detail to slip into muddiness.

Texts are supplied without translation. This Requiem is worth hearing.

FANFARE: Adrian Corleonis
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Works on This Recording

Grande messe des morts, Op. 5 by Hector Berlioz
Performer:  Giuseppe Sabbatini ()
Conductor:  Bertrand De Billy
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1837; France 
Date of Recording: 04/21/2003 
Venue:  Wiener Konzerthaus 
Length: 80 Minutes 35 Secs. 
La mort de Cléopâtre by Hector Berlioz
Performer:  Violeta Urmana ()
Conductor:  Bertrand De Billy
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1829; France 
Date of Recording: 08/18/2003 
Venue:  Kleines Festspielhaus 
Length: 20 Minutes 18 Secs. 
Le carnaval romain Overture, Op. 9 by Hector Berlioz
Conductor:  Bertrand De Billy
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1843-1844; France 
Date of Recording: 01/26/2004 
Venue:  ORF-Sendesaal 
Length: 8 Minutes 47 Secs. 

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