BERLIOZ: Requiem, Op. 5
Stuart Burrows, tenor; Radio France Orch; French National Orch; France Philharmonic Orch/Leonard Bernstein, cond.
KULTUR DVD VIDEO D 1354 TT: 97 min.

BERLIOZ: Requiem, Op. 5
Keith Lewis, tenor; Bavarian Radio Symphony Chorus and Orch/Sir Colin Davis, cond.

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 9 in D minor
Orchestra Sinfonica di Torino della RAI/Sergiu Celebidache, cond.

With its large orchestra and chorus along with extra brass, the massive Berlioz Requiem would seem to be an ideal choice for DVD video. Unfortunately, both of these video presentations disappoint, for various reasons. Bernstein's was produced by Radio France, recorded in the Chapel of St. Louis des Invalides in Paris on an unspecified date in 1975. The audience included Valéry Gisard d'Estaing, who can be seen entering the church and is seated up front. He was then President of France, a position he held until 1981 when he was defeated by François Mitterrand.. Bernstein gives a passionate reading of the Requiem, but audio quality is decidedly dated. Although the DVD box advertises only stereo Dolby, the on-screen menu indicates there is a 5.1 option, but it is totally ineffective. The highly resonant stereo sound is unable to provide directionality to brass from the rear, and there is little sonic impact in the big moments. Fans of Bernstein surely will wish to have this video document, in spite of its limitations. There are no program notes, the back of the DVD box indicates it is in English! Bernstein's Sony recording of the Requiem made at this time has long been discontinued.

Sir Colin Davis is a master of Berlioz—his near-definitive 1969 stereo recording of the Requiem (along with Symphonie funèbre et triomphale) has just been remastered by Philips (see REVIEW). This performance of the Requiem was recorded in the magnificent Regensburg Cathedral in Bavaria. It is a superb performance in every way except that Davis, for whatever reason, elects to have the extra brass in front rather than in the back as the composer wished. Sonic quality is satisfactory if not outstanding. There is a sense of occasion throughout, and at the conclusion of Agnus Dei we hear about two minutes of the solemn cathedral bells softly ringing before Davis indicates the performance is over. This is a fine DVD in most ways, but most listeners would prefer more spectacle in Dies irae which surely can be heard in the remarkable Vanguard 1969 Utah Symphony/Abravanel audio recording available on a budget-priced SACD available from ARKIVMUSIC (the 2-disk set also includes Mahler's Symphony No. 1). Of course that is audio only, but mightily impressive. We are still waiting for a heaven-storming performance of Berlioz' masterpiece on DVD that sonically utilizes latest technology.

Legendary Romanian conductor Sergiu Celibidache can be seen conducting the Orchestra Sinfonica di Torino della RAI in a performance of Bruckner's Symphony No. 9 recorded in concert in 1969. This is one of the few DVDs of the celebrated conductor. More than two decades later EMI issued Bruckner's symphonies in live performances with the Munich Philharmonic, and there are many other live recordings of varied repertory. According to Misha Donat's adulatory essay that accompanies the new disk (commissioned for the DVD), Celibidache made only two commercial studio recordings: the Brahms Violin Concerto in 1953 with Ida Haendel for HMV, and his own Der Tashengarten more than two decades later. He doesn't mention Celibidache's 1948 Decca recordings of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 and Nutcracker Suite issued on CD in 1990 (425 958). Recently on this site we mentioned the DVD (REVIEW) on which he rehearses and performs Till Eulenspiegel followed by a studio performance of Scheherazade. There also exists a DVD of a performance of Bruckner's Mass in F minor recorded in 1993. Bruckner was a favorite composer of Celibidache (he never conducted Mahler). This expansive performance of Symphony No. 9 is marked by a particularly powerful Scherzo. However, the Italian orchestra is not among the best and often there is scrappy string playing. Camera work and black and white photography are what one would expect of the era, the mono sound is equally dated. Still, this is a release of considerable importance, one of the few opportunities to watch Celibidache.

R.E.B. (June 2007)