Berlioz – Requiem @ Bozar

MI0001454913“Following my usual suspicion, I stayed behind Habeneck and, turning my back towards him, I watched the group of timpanists, which he could not see, the moment approaching when they would all take part in the piece. There are perhaps a thousand bars in my Requiem. But precisely during the one I just mentioned, the one where the movement expands, the one in which the brass instruments launch their terrible fanfare, on the main bar in which the action of the conductor is absolutely essential, Habeneck lowers his conducting stick, quietly takes his snuff box and started to take a pinch of snuff. I always had an eye on him; at that moment I quickly turn around, rush in front of him, I extend my arm and I mark the four main tempi of the new movement. The orchestras follow me, everything is in order, I conduct the piece to the end, with the effect that I had hoped for. When, with the last words of the choir, Habeneck sees the Tuba mirum rescued “What a cold blood’ he said, “without you we would have been lost!” – Yes, I know, I replied, staring at him. I did not add a word … Did he do it on purpose? … Is it possible that this man, in agreement with Mr. XX., who hated me, and friends of Cherubini, would dare to meditate and attempt to commit such a low villainy? … I do not dare to think … But I do not doubt it. God forgive me if I insult him”

This was the account that Berlioz gave in his Memoires when his Requiem was first performed. …”terrible fanfare” he mentions…. but there was no such thing in the Bozar. Especially in the tuba mirum I expect the heaven to open, the earth to part, the blinds to see, the toupets to fly and the elderly to hear. No such thing. In fact had I not read the score, I would not have known that there are 4 extra brass bands, as I did not properly hear them. I barely did in fact and only because they were slightly out of sync. Maybe the orchestral forces should have followed Berlioz’ advise: On top of the 400 musicians that are required “if space permits one can double or triple the vocal mass and increase the orchestral mass proportionally”. Of the 400 required I counted around 200 which one can argue whether they were able to give the requested effect.

But except for the fact that the Requiem was a bit too well-behaved, everybody involved was excellent. The chorus powerful, the orchestra adequate. The tenor Steve Davislim had audible difficulties with the extreme top notes but he has the benefit of replacing his colleague last minute. The music was sublime. It is always a joy to hear such wonderful pieces as the Rex tremendae, the Lacrimosa and the Dies irae and I am pleased that the La Monnaie/De munt put this work on the program.

Music direction-Alain Altinoglu, Chorus direction-Martino Faggiani, Tenor-Steve Davislim, Orchestra-De Munt Symphony Orchestra, Chorus-De Munt, De Munt Academy, Vlaams Radio Koor

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