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John Nelson conducts Berlioz Requiem in Australia

Concert review: Berlioz Requiem conducted by John Nelson in Australia.

One of Australia's outstanding musical events of 1996 took place in August when American conductor John Nelson conducted the massive Berlioz Requiem with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, and no less than seven choirs. John Aler was the brave soloist.

Nelson made a big impact in Australia not long ago with a well-considered and meticulous--but also very exciting--performance of the Symphony Fantastique; he brought the same degree of fastidious attention to detail, conviction and authority to the Requiem--which is certainly not an easy piece to conduct. Both the orchestra and the choruses were excellent and Nelson knew just when to unleash his full forces and when to pull the reins in.

John Nelson is perhaps best known for his work with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and with the opera in St. Louis. He has recorded a number of works (I count three compact discs) of Gorecki, and a disk devoted to the music of Griffes.

The Berlioz Requiem was part of the Fourth Symposium of Choral Music, held in Sydney. Choruses from around the world have participated-- from places as far away as Venezuela and Finland. While the quality of the performance may be taken for granted in such programs, what has intrigued this listener has been the range of material and repertoire--a concert broadcast on Saturday night by the famous Tapiola Choir featured an outstanding successful mixture of the known (Finlandia, no less) and the unknown. Their concert was preceded by the Cantoria Alberto Grau from Venezuela which sparkled in Venezuelan folk songs and more serious fare. The concert concluded with a somewhat predictable performance of the Mozart Mass in C minor, K427 featuring the Australian Chamber Orchestra and the highly respected Danish National Radio Choir. This was a good performance; perhaps it was just the unpredictability and variety of the two preceding choirs which made the performance sound just a little muted.

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