Berlioz' Te Deum
The Royal Festival Hall
4th May 2005
I was surprised, during the recent Berlioz anniversary, to find such a dearth of performances of his Te Deum. It is a splendid festival piece, yet was obstinately ignored by the more obvious venues. All the better then to welcome a magnificent, spine-tingling performance from the combined forces of Crouch End Festival Chorus, Hertfordshire Chorus, Finchley Children's Music Group and Mid Herts Youth Choir under the indomitable baton of David Temple.
Spilling over into the side stalls, the singers were in splendid form and produced sounds of both grandiose splendour and subtle passion. Berlioz goes out of his way to challenge his performers to produce a wide range of effects, from the conventional fugal settings to the quasi medievalism of the opening of Tibi omnes. In addition to the variety of textures from the various choral combinations, the Aurelian Symphony Orchestra was well up to the challenges posed to them. I particularly enjoyed the sensuous rasp of the trombones at the Sanctus which encouraged the choir to indulge themselves in the part writing.
Jeffrey Stewart was the tenor soloist and managed to hold his own against the vast forces behind him. Roderick Elms was at the console throughout. His playing could not be faulted but for once I felt that the instrument seemed underpowered for the weight of forces around it. Given that the rebuilt instrument is, at least in the early stages, to be a cut down version of what we currently hear, I have concerns that it may not be able to respond in orchestral works with the authority required.
Under normal circumstances a work of like the Te Deum could easily stand by itself - or at most be off-set with a lighter introduction, but David Temple intended to spoil us. In the first half we heard an equally sensuous reading of Holst's The Hymn of Jesus. What was particularly interesting here was the acoustic. All the works in the performance were intended for church or Cathedral performance with the heady and vibrant acoustic that implies. The RFH is anything but. As a consequence we heard every word and nuance to exceptional effect. But more was to come.
Spread out across the width of the hall and wrapping around into the side stalls the full adult choirs sang Tallis' Spem in alium. Tallis may never have intended it to be sung with this many singers in this sort of acoustic but the outcome was overwhelming. The most moving form of living stereo I have ever encountered! By holding back the voices and carefully focussing the sound, the musical line was never fudged and the forty parts rang with ease.
A magnificent evening. It will be a pleasure to welcome them all back once the RFH reopens. Maybe David Temple could be persuaded to repeat the Tallis so that we could compare the acoustic then to the way it is now?
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