Audiophiles, those of the surround-sound persuasion, will want to know right off how Telarc fared with the four brass choirs in the Requiem’s “Dies Irae.” The overall multichannel presentation for this SACD is pretty conservative: for the opening “Introitus” and the first five minutes of the second movement, listeners with a properly balanced surround setup hear only a very natural hall ambience and won’t be aware of the presence of the rear speakers. So when the fanfares begin, it’s stunningly effective. The perceived distance to the back-of-the-hall brass ensembles seems right, what you’d expect from the mid-hall sonic perspective established before their entrance. The four groups are impressively well coordinated and the level ofRead more playing—obviously, many musicians who are not regular members of the ASO were involved—withstands close scrutiny. There is a thrilling sense of those many trumpets, trombones, and tubas energizing the entire space of the venue from several directions, glorious, as it must have been in life. It’s not just the multichannel aspect of the recording that’s responsible. The wide dynamic range inherent to the DSD encoding process contributes as well, without nearly as much of a sense of strain as with analog or earlier digital technologies.
The multichannel, too, delivers excellent front-to-back layering of the musicians on stage. The large chorus is heard as a group of 200 positioned behind the instrumentalists, without any loss of orchestral power or detail. The sound of all those voices in unison at the start of “Offertorium” rolling out over the orchestra is quite convincing. This isn’t a super-detailed recording but it’s always intelligible, even with complex passages. There is multichannel competition, from Abravanel on Vanguard (ATM CD 1506), but it’s no contest—musically or sonically. The rear brass bands seem uncomfortably close and the reverberant acoustic of the Mormon Tabernacle often obscures detail. Yes, the audiophiles will be happy with Telarc’s new effort.
Those listening to the two-channel SACD or CD programs on modest audio systems, or even those who find sound quality of secondary interest, should also be happy. Throughout, Robert Spano maintains focus and forward momentum. This is one of the relatively few Berlioz Requiems that, at under 78 minutes, fits on a single SACD or CD—without compromising the vastness of the composer’s conception. The performance is rhythmically pointed, from the measured tread of the “Introitus” to the engaging swing of the “Lacrymosa.” Spano does full justice to both the most apocalyptic sections as well as the introspective ones. His handling of the chorus is expert, as it was with his Grammy-winning recording of the Vaughan Williams A Sea Symphony: the unaccompanied “Quaerens me” is exquisite. When the male choir is set off by flutes and low-register trombones in the “Hostias,” that almost proto-Messiaen juxtaposition has never sounded more extraordinary. The sense of calm, peaceful resolution that Spano achieves at the very end of the work, as he arrives at the final amens, is transcendent.
Many will prefer a lighter textured, less hefty tenor in the “Sanctus” movement than that afforded by Frank Lopardo. And Spano’s interpretation, which is powerful without seeming grandiose, may fall short to those for whom grandiosity is the very essence of the piece. This new Requiem does not eclipse Colin Davis’s energetically monumental reading, Dutoit’s elegantly contoured version, or the majestic spiritual glow of Shaw’s earlier Telarc recording. But for those who understand how important sound-for-sound’s-sake was to Berlioz, especially with this magnificent edifice for which he maintained a special affection throughout his creative life, Spano’s entry must be heard.