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Positive Feedback ISSUE 15
september/october 2004


Berlioz, Requiem. Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus (Telarc SACD-60627)
by Karl Lozier


This is one of those few classical works that is generally acclaimed as "great." As the title implies, it has to do with the Grand Mass of death. Unlike many other Requiems, this one is not all depressing, sad, or downbeat. Much of it is beautifully melodic, upbeat, and uplifting. The first of the ten sections, "Introitus: Requiem and Kyrie," is a good example, even though the Kyrie is a ritualistic chant, fearfully descending lower with each repetition. The second section, "Dies Irae," concerns the cataclysm of the Last Judgment. This is tremendously powerful music that portrays the living and the dead joining in the fearful procession to the throne of judgment. Preceding and following this almost overwhelming musical event is the "wondrous trumpet." This will show off your sound system so well that you may wonder whether it was written more than a century and a half ago with audiophiles in mind. The "wondrous trumpet" is actually four brass choirs playing at the same time, with their interplay surrounding you. If you have a multichannel setup, you can hope to capture some of what is going on, though you may have to raise the gain of your surround speakers to get the proper overpowering effect.

Much of this composition is powerfully potent. It is worth your time and effort to give it a try, particularly if you are on the lookout for something new and different. Berlioz conceived the piece for eighty sopranos, eighty altos, sixty tenors, seventy basses, and in the orchestra, sixteen trombones, sixteen tympani, two side drums, four gongs, and five pairs of cymbals, plus approximately one hundred and fifty other instrumentalists! On this generally fine recording, you will have to be content with the ninety-five members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, led by Robert Spano and complemented by the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra and nearly two hundred members of the Orchestra’s chorus, which was founded by Robert Shaw.

Could those tiny microphones pick up this music making by over three hundred performers? Or perhaps I should ask, do you have enough space to place even a fraction of them in your listening room? In my room, there were times in which things were less than ideal. The massed female voices exhibited a kind of compression, combined with edginess in the higher overtones. During the powerful passages of this monumental composition, the limitations of my home theater system featuring the Mini loudspeakers of the Nola line became apparent. With tongue in cheek, I could say that it did just fine with the first hundred or so musicians, but the added two hundred performers were a bit too much. My main (stereo only) system, with a total of eight subwoofers, showed its mettle with this unusually demanding composition. It was significantly better in soundstaging, and offered much better three-dimensionality and depth reproduction.

If you want to try a beautiful but less overwhelming composition by Berlioz, try Harold in Italy, an attractive composition that features the beautiful sounds of the viola in many passages. I hope to receive a good recording of it for review within the next two months.  Karl Lozier