the review site with a difference since 1999
Reviews Interviews Articles Apps About

Image Entertainment presents

Hector Berlioz: Requiem (1989)

"Mournful is the day of judgment."- Text of the Requiem

Stars: Keith Lewis, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Colin Davis, conductor
Director: Klaus Lindemann

Manufacturer: Ritek Digital Video
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:41m:21s
Release Date: 2002-07-09
Genre: classical

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B A-BB- D-


DVD Review

A requiem mass is one of the most intriguing challenges of the classical composer. The piece must be appropriately respectful of the dead, yet the text also presents a number of tempting opportunities for the composer to display his dramatic flair with all the brimstone, damnation and judgment that the text emphasizes.

The requiem of Hector Berlioz, op. 5, or Grande Messe des Morts, was composed in 1837 on commission to commemorate the fallen soldiers of the Revolution of 1830. Berlioz considered this his greatest work even though he was not particularly a religious man. This requiem takes a much different route from those of other composers: Instead of the drama and bombast, Berlioz looks to the contemplative side of the text, with a small measure of fear at the unknown but taking a more mystical standpoint that is emphasized by Sir Colin Davis in his conducting of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Where Verdi would make the Dies Irae into an eruption of drama, Berlioz gives the prediction of wrath a querulous, wistful and almost pathetic character. The basses on their entry instill the listener instead with a quiet dread.

The Qua sum miser segment feels rather flat, although the succeeding Rex tremendae is put forth with suitable conviction and poise. Only during the Lachrymosa does a more agitated feeling take over, with Berlioz giving an emphasis to the judgment aspect of this segment of the mass rather than the mournfulness that most composers seize upon. The difference in emphasis is highly intriguing.

The Offertorium is one of the highlights of this performance, with the solo celli putting forth a rich, warm sound that is enveloping. The orchestra overall does well with the piece. The chorus at times has excellent diction, and at others seems to come a shade unglued. Particularly in the latter half, the words were difficult to make out even when one knows what they ought to be. The balance is a shade off at times as well; during the quieter passages (which form most of the work), everything is fine, but when the full chorus and orchestra are forte, the sound tends to blur into a shapeless mass lacking in clarity. The tenor solo by Keith Lewis during the Sanctus is clear and fine, leading into a sharply fugal treatment of the Hosanna.

While this treatment of the requiem is not one of high drama, the performance here is interesting and suitably solemn. It is however somewhat too lacking in vigor; even in contemplation there is still breath, and this performance could have used a bit more to keep from sliding into the abyss itself.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The full-frame picture, shot in the Regensburg Cathedral before a live audience, is admirable in quality for such an undertaking. Detail is quite good throughout, with a nice texture on the tuxedos of the orchestra instead of simply dissolving into blocks of black. Color is quite decent as well. The only instances of artifacting appear on pans over the orchestra, which provides a nightmare of detail for a compressionist.

Image Transfer Grade: B

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Latinyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Both a DD 5.1 and Dolby Surround track are provided. The 5.1 track is much the preferable; the 2.0 has a confined and narrow soundstage that is stifling in comparison to the 5.1. The latter gives one a 360-degree sound from the orchestra and chorus, giving the sensation of being right with the ensemble. There is decent range and claritcvy, though the sound from the surrounds is often a little bit strained at times. The brass sounds a wee bit shrill, and hiss is prominent during the concluding segment during which the cathedral bells peal. Apparently this is due to a miking problem of some sort, since the bells themselves sound quite muffled and completely lacking in clarity.

Audio Transfer Grade: B- 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 13 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 11 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Packaging: EastPack
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Except for removable English subtitles (would Latin ones have been so difficult to supply?), there's nothing at all here, in the usual dismal extras situation to which the classical music DVD lover must resign himself.

Extras Grade: D-

Final Comments

A contemplative treatment of the requiem mass with appropriate solemnity, generally competent but the performance tends to leave the listener a bit cold. The transfer is adequate, but no extras.

Mark Zimmer 2002-11-08