Ludovic Morlot Returns to His Roots with Momentous Recording of Berlioz’s Requiem

Tenor Kenneth Tarver sings from the loft of the Watjen Concert Organ during the live concert recording of Berlioz’s Requiem. (Photo by Brandon Patoc)

Featuring tenor Kenneth Tarver and the Seattle Symphony, the newly released live recording of Berlioz’s Requiem is available September 14, 2018.

By Andrew Stiefel

Ludovic Morlot has a deep personal connection to the music of Hector Berlioz.

Morlot grew up in Lyon, France, not far from La Côte-Saint-André, the French composer’s native village. Over the years, Morlot developed an appreciation for the composer’s revolutionary approach to music, eventually studying with the late Sir Colin Davis, known for his thrilling and expert interpretations of Berlioz’s music. “From my very early days as a musician, Berlioz was an important voice for me,” recalls Morlot.

Berlioz’s Requiem

Now, on a new release from Seattle Symphony Media, Morlot pays tribute to his countryman with a live concert recording of Berlioz’s powerful and deeply spiritual Grande messe des morts, or Requiem.

Scored for a staggering array of forces, the Symphony’s performances at Benaroya Hall in November 2017 included an expanded orchestra with 109 members and a chorus of more than 190 members, featuring the combined voices of the Seattle Symphony Chorale, Seattle Pro Musica and Vocalpoint! Seattle.

“Berlioz’s orchestrations and harmonic language fascinate me,” remarks Morlot. “His voice was revolutionary and he broke with all the rules of the conservatory.”

Some of Berlioz’s most inventive approaches to music, however, went beyond orchestration and into how he approached the spaces where his music was performed.

Written in 1837, the Requiem was commissioned for a national event at the Church of the Invalides, one of the largest cathedrals in Paris. By placing four brass choirs around the room — and gathering his expanded chorus and orchestra in the front — Berlioz creates a directional, “surround-sound” effect that pulls the listener inside the music.

Surprisingly, Berlioz’s approach is much more intimate than such an impressive assembly might suggest. In Morlot’s interpretation, recreating the original positioning of the brass choirs in Benaroya Hall, the grandiose elements of the music beautifully set up Berlioz’s more introverted and reflective moments, the tension propelling the music forward.

In an interesting twist, the climax of the Requiem is not the thunderous entrance of the timpani and brass choirs in the second movement, Dies irae: Prose—Tuba mirum. Instead, Berlioz stretches the tension until we arrive at the quiet beauty of the Sanctus near the end of the work. At the height of the work, tenor Kenneth Tarver makes his entrance from above the orchestra, his voice floating across Benaroya Hall.

Tarver received two Grammy Awards for his performances on a recording of Berlioz’s opera, Les Troyens, under Sir Colin Davis. “I actually discovered Kenneth through his recordings of Berlioz and knew immediately that I wanted to feature him,” remarks Morlot. “Kenneth’s voice is very direct, a pure voice, mixed with incredible warmth.”

Exclusive to the digital release is a bonus track featuring Tarver in Berlioz’s rarely recorded La mort d’Orphée, composed ten years earlier in 1827. The cantata was Berlioz’s first attempt to win the Prix de Rome, which awarded French artists a residency in the Italian capitol.

Although the submission was a disaster for Berlioz’s ambitions — the musicians fell apart during the performance for the jury — later performances revealed the ingenuity of the music. La mort d’Orphée is quintessentially Berlioz, filled with unexpected rhythmic ruptures and imaginative harmonies that brilliantly evoke Orpheus’ lament and death from the Greek tragedy.

Berlioz’s Requiem with Music Director Ludovic Morlot and the Seattle Symphony is available through all major online music retailers and streaming services starting September 14, 2018.

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The performances of Berlioz’s Requiem were generously underwritten by Rebecca and Barney* Ebsworth, in memory of Muriel Mueller and presented as part of the Delta Air Lines Masterworks Season.

*in memoriam

Posted on August 30, 2018

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