Berlioz Grande Messe Des Morts 1837


Paul McCreesh & Ensemble Wroclaw
Robert Murray
Gabrieli Consort & Players
Wroclaw Philharmonic Orchestra & Choir
Chetham's School of Music Symphonic Brass Ensemble
Agnieszka Franków-Żelazny, Chorus Master
Benjamin Bayl, Assistant Conductor
Nicole Tibell, Pronunciation Advisor
Winner of a 2012 BBC Music Magazine Award


MP3 Album also available from iTunes.

To access a wealth of information about this recording, please follow the links below.

Programme Note

BERLIOZ Grande Messe des Morts (Requiem)

for tenor solo, chorus, large orchestra and four brass ensembles.

Requiem et Kyrie
Dies iræ
Quid sum miser
Rex tremendæ
Quærens me
Agnus dei

Berlioz grew up in a tradition which harnessed music to the service of la gloire, for the French Revolution had found large-scale ceremonial very much to its taste, and composers of the time were able to extend themselves in a manner highly prophetic of the coming romantic passion for the infinite and the immeasurable. The great outdoor fêtes of the 1790's employed enormous choruses accompanied by armies of wind and percussion. This music was no longer played when Berlioz arrived in Paris as a medical student in 1821, but his first teacher, Jean-François Lesueur, had been a leading composer of such ceremonial music, with a style of monumental simplicity that exactly suited large-scale outdoor performances. A generation later, it was Berlioz's infusion of an expressive poetic style into the grandiose outlines of the Grande Messe des Morts and the Te Deum that endowed these works with such striking individuality.

The matching of space and sonority was one of Berlioz's lasting obsessions, and the scoring of the Grande Messe des Morts, notorious for its requirement of four brass ensembles in addition to a large orchestra and chorus, owes much to his disgust, in 1831, at finding the vast interior of St Peter's Basilica in Rome provided with a choir of eighteen voices and a small organ on wheels. Such a building, he felt, surely cried out for immense forces. Twenty years later he witnessed the annual service for Charity Children in London's St Paul's Cathedral, at which 6000 children intoned 'All people that on earth do dwell'. The effect of huge numbers of voices in a huge interior space threw Berlioz into a delirium of emotion from which he took days to recover.

Conversely, he hated noisy pit bands in small theatres, objected constantly to the over-use of trombones and bass drum at the Opéra-Comique, and felt deeply that the experience of music must relate to the building in which it is heard and to the disposition of perfomers and audience within that building. The Te Deum is based on the concept of pitting an organ against an orchestra at opposite ends of a large church. His aim in such works as these was to construct a huge three-dimensional block of sound in which the contemplative soul might lose itself in humility and wonder and, in the Grande Messe des Morts, to create an all-consuming apocalyptic musical equivalent of the Last Judgment. It was the kind of musical experience no one had dreamed of before. Saint-Saëns seems to have grasped the nature of the acoustical idea when he said, 'It seemed as if each separate slim column of each pillar in the church became an organ pipe and the whole edifice a vast organ'.

His opportunity to exploit these ideas came in 1837 when a Requiem was commissioned by the Minister of the Interior for a grand public ceremony to be performed on the second anniversary of the death of General Mortier, killed in an attempted assassination of King Louis-Philippe. He set to work at once like a man possessed: 'The text of the Requiem was a quarry that I had long coveted. Now at last it was mine, and I fell upon it with a kind of fury. My brain felt as though it would explode with the pressure of ideas. The outline of one piece was barely sketched before the next formed itself in my mind. It was impossible to write fast enough, and I devised a sort of musical shorthand which was a great help to me.'

Without hesitation Berlioz decided to assemble vast forces, both orchestral and choral, to do justice to the text. As well as the four additional brass groups, placed at the four corners of the performing mass, he requires an array of sixteen timpani, bass drums, massed gongs and cymbals, four of each woodwind instrument and a string section for which he recommends at least fifty violins, twenty violas, twenty cellos and eighteen double basses, in addition to a choir of at least two hundred and ten singers. He was finally able to show that the single trombone that represents the Last Judgment in Mozart's Requiem was inadequate – pathetic, he might have said.

The task of composition was made easier by recycling various ideas from earlier projects. The Messe solennelle of 1824 had included, in embryonic form, the immense fanfare that Berlioz now used to depict the Last Trump, 'tuba spargens sonum'. The Kyrie of the early Mass also provided a theme that Berlioz thoroughly reworked for the Offertoire, which is romantically subtitled Choeur des âmes du purgatoire (chorus of souls in purgatory). Other passages were doubtless drawn from an oratorio entitled Le dernier jour du monde, planned in 1832, and from a huge seven-movement work begun in 1835 (but never finished) called Fête musicale funèbre à la mémoire des hommes illustres de la France. Its cumbersome title reveals what Berlioz meant when he said he had long coveted the text of the Requiem mass; he may well have begun working with it two years earlier.

No sooner had the score been completed than the ceremony was cancelled, much to Berlioz's annoyance: but an opportunity to perform it arose a few months later when the French army, carving out an Empire in North Africa, lost its commander-in-chief in the heat of battle. So the Grande Messe des Morts was first performed in a memorial service in the church of the Invalides in Paris on 5 December 1837, a remarkable occasion of which Berlioz left a vivid account in his Memoirs. According to this account, the conductor, Habeneck, put down his baton at the very moment that he most needed to set the broad new tempo for the Tuba Mirum, since he felt the urge – obviously irresistible – to take a pinch of snuff. Berlioz, sitting near, leapt to his feet and gave the four beats of the new tempo and thus saved the performance from disaster. Unlikely though it seems, this incident is now widely regarded as historical, if unverifiable, fact.

The service was a stirring public occasion which conferred official approval upon the composer and created a wider awareness in Parisian circles of just how powerful and novel Berlioz's music was. No one could be left in any doubt of the force and originality of the composer's genius, an impression which is made equally strongly by the work today. Although the full score was published soon after its first performance, Berlioz gained more prestige than money from the event; indeed it was a high point in what was ultimately a tragic and disappointing career. He gave two more complete performances in Paris in later years, both in the church of St Eustache, near Les Halles. Elsewhere he played extracts in his concerts, including a performance of the Offertoire in Leipzig in 1843 that deeply impressed Schumann.

It was the Grande Messe des Morts that inspired Heine to call Berlioz an 'antediluvian bird, a colossal nightingale, a lark the size of an eagle'. Berlioz himself was stirred as much by the volcanic power of the Requiem text as by the technical innovations of his score. The vast spatial sonorities are a stroke of imaginative daring; but only three sections of the score employ the full panoply of instruments. The music is for the most part solemn and austere, even ascetic. There is little of the brilliant colour of Berlioz's overtures, little of the intimacy of the songs, but a stern contrapuntal manner and an occasional modal flavour. The music is not that of an orthodox believer but of a visionary inspired by the dramatic implications of death and judgment. The images of Blake and John Martin come to mind. The Grande Messe des Morts reaches back to the long tradition of French choral music from before and after the Revolution, and offered inspiration to many who came after, including Verdi, Saint-Saëns, Messiaen and Britten.

Hugh Macdonald


We are delighted to announce that this recording won a BBC Music Magazine Awards in April 2012 for technical excellence. Huge thanks to producer Nicholas Parker, engineers Neil Hutchinson and Andrew Halifax and all involved in this wonderful project.

“...the results are fascinating... The ‘Requiem’ and ‘Kyrie’ are spacious and mournfully reflective, the ‘Dies Irae’ builds to a simply awesome ‘Tuba Mirum’, while the unaccompanied ‘Quaerens me’ displays a Renaissance-like transparency. With some choral specialists orchestral focus and detail may suffer, but the cor anglais and bassoon lines in the ‘Quid sum miser’ are delicate, the ‘Lacrymosa’ robustly syncopated and even the weird flute and trombone lines in the ‘Hostias’ convince...” BBC Music Magazine, November 2011

“...Certainly not for the faint-hearted either in terms of its enormous scale or its spectrum of powerful, visionary expression. The impact is overwhelming ... McCreesh has achieved something quite out of the ordinary in this performance of the Requiem ... The contrapuntal intricacy of Berlioz’s choral writing is done with precision and firm accents, the haunted atmosphere of the ‘Quid sum miser’ interpreted with restrained, eloquently inflected choral singing and poignant instrumental interjections...” Gramophone Choice, Gramophone Magazine, November 2011

“ fine an account as I have ever heard ... it sounds wonderful, overwhelming in the great apocalyptic tuttis, but at the same time beautifully clear in detail, with a lovely bloom on the individual choral and instrumental lines...” The Sunday Times, 2 October 2011

“...the chief glory is the choral singing, superb in its fervour and weight, with the difficult tenor line notably strong and ecstatic...” The Guardian, 14 October 2011

“...the loveliness of the Wroclaw Philharmonic Choir; or the quiet corners of the final sections, when rest eternal beckons and the instruments’ individual colours rise to the fore...” The Times, 14 October 2011

“...McCreesh’s speeds and intensity are ideally paced: calm yet sweetly shaped and controlled as he propels the score forward. ... Taken as a whole this is an intelligent and supremely memorable reading ... McCreesh reflects on every bar and inflects every nuance with taste and good judgement. Far from being a monster, this Grande Messe des Morts is a thing of unexpected delicacy and beauty...”, 14 November 2011

“...I’ve heard some fine recordings of the Berlioz Requiem in the past, including those by Previn, Munch, Mitropoulos and Sir Colin Davis ... This new recording is more than fit to take its place alongside the very best ... Despite Sir Colin’s great wisdom and perceptiveness as a Berlioz interpreter I think it must now yield the palm. McCreesh’s interpretation is every bit as committed and inspired as Sir Colin’s. However, he has the edge in three crucial ways. Firstly, the instrumental sonorities are more intriguing and, surely, more authentic, even if this isn’t an entirely ‘period’ performance. Secondly, though Sir Colin’s chorus give him everything they’ve got, McCreesh’s choir is outstanding... Finally, the recorded sound on this new release is superb and manages better than any I’ve previously heard to render Berlioz’s monumental vision susceptible to domestic listening. At last we have a recording that, in every respect, does full justice to the Grande Messe des Morts...” John Quinn, Music Web International, 27 October 2011

“...Unquestionably, this is my Recording of the Year. Paul McCreesh assembles Anglo-Polish forces similar to those specified by the composer and cleverly mixes period and modern instruments. Superb singing and playing and an authoritative interpretation are captured in magnificent sound...” John Quinn, Music Web International Recordings of the Year, 4 December 2011

“...The word ‘ambitious’ doesn’t even come close to describing this inaugural release on Paul McCreesh’s Winged Lion label ... McCreesh has done something genuinely new and interesting with the Berlioz Requiem. If future releases on Winged Lion are as distinctive and accomplished as this, it promises to be one of the more worthwhile of the many own-label projects currently taking over the market.” Gavin Dixon,, 27 October 2011

“...The chorus sings with utter dedication, buying into McCreesh’s vision with complete conviction and giving it their all ... The orchestral playing is also top notch ... Holding it all together is the special vision of McCreesh himself ... he succeeds unassailably in the task of making sense of this mammoth beast. There is a unity of vision and clarity of purpose that I have never heard before in this work. This, combined with the excellence of the playing and engineering, must surely make this now a first choice, nudging the recordings by Colin Davis and Eliahu Inbal off their pedestals...” Simon Thompson, Music Web Recording of the Year Review, 9 December 2011

“...Anyone in search of a transformative listening experience, Berlioz agnostics among them, should make this a priority purchase. Expect to hear terrific choral singing...” Classic FM Magazine, December 2011


I would like to thank the many people who worked incredibly hard to realise this vast and almost impossible project; in particular, Przemek Loho, Piotr Turkiewicz and Joanna Engel in Wratislavia Cantans; Nicola Loughrey (General Manager), David Clegg (Choral Manager) and the team at Gabrieli who booked the largest ever contingent of Gabrieli singers and brass players; Steve Threlfall and David Chatterton from Chetham's; Radek Pujanek for auditioning so many young polish string players and Jacek Fosna, the Wroclaw musicians' representative;  Adrian Bending for his work with historical percussion; Agnieszka Franków-Żelazny, Ben Bayl and Nicole Tibbells for their great support during the sessions; Nick Parker and Neil Hutchinson in the recording box and editing studio; Mike Abrahams for his tireless dedication in design; and Marcin del Fidali and Magda Wójcik and their team for constructing a stage the size of a small airport all through the night, and for incorporating numerous adjustments whilst still smiling!

Most of all I should like to thank Andrzej Kosendiak, General Director of the Wratislavia Cantans Festival, and the wonderful Mayor of Wroclaw, Rafał Dutkiewicz, for their unwavering commitment and support. Wroclaw is indeed a blessed city whilst it has these two men to fight for the importance of culture in our lives. Thank you - Dziękuję bardzo - to all!

Paul McCreesh

This recording was made at the 2010 International Festival Wratislavia Cantans at Mary Magdelene Church in Wroclaw.
Recording Producer: Nicholas Parker
Balance Engineer: Neil Hutchinson
Recording Engineer: Andrew Halifax
Editing: Nicholas Parker, Neil Hutchinson and Paul McCreesh

All recording and editing facilities by Classic Sound Limited, London and Nicholas Parker

The edition used for this performance is based on a Performing Edition by Paul McCreesh, based on the original nineteenth century sources.


Robin Tyson, former Head of Artistic Planning at Gabrieli Consort & Players, interviews Paul McCreesh.

You have a distinguished catalogue of large-scale oratorio recordings. What was it about the Berlioz Grande Messe des Morts that drew you to the work?

Well, I admit it, of course there was a little desire within me to make a statement at the beginning of a new series of recordings. On the other hand, I didn't really want to conduct this work just because of the gargantuan forces involved. For many years I found the piece slightly bizarre; the great theatrical moments for which the work is renowned were evidently thrilling enough and four brass ensembles are always going to be a temptation to a conductor who started his career in the world of Venetian cori spezzati. But I felt that a much bigger challenge was to make convincing music out of those slightly idiosyncratic sections where Berlioz's intentions are nowhere near as obvious. I feel that the work is full of paradoxes; it's clearly a work that is indebted to the secularity of the French revolution but at the same time it's very French Catholic. It is also both thoroughly operatic and deeply religious. Berlioz himself said that if all of his works were to be consumed in a terrible fire, this would be the one he would wish to be saved. I wanted to find out why.

The work is best known for its Tuba Mirum movement, perhaps one of the most impressive moments in all music. Is this work a one-hit wonder, or is there more to it?

I think there are lots of things in this piece which are actually quite revolutionary but often escape attention. Clearly Berlioz is hugely attracted to the dramatic possibilities of the text, not least the awe-inspiring terrors of the day of judgement. But it also occurs to me that so much of the work is intensely reflective and deeply prayerful. Take, for instance, the way in which, in the first few bars, Berlioz defines not only the sense of physical space, but the profundity of the subject matter by the use of pauses; and perhaps there is also a sense of the music struggling to get started under the weight of grief. The day of judgement – fear, trembling, awe and terror in the face of God – are portrayed as graphically as any other composer has ever managed, but Berlioz, like every great dramatist, well knew the value of restraint, and the vast forces are used very sparingly. Two of the most intense and ravishingly beautiful moments occur in between the three vast sections of the Dies Irae: the hauntingly plaintive Quid sum miser, where a solo cor anglais, solo bassoon and male voices create an exquisite delicacy of sound - the fragility of human existence expressed in a simple, unison vocal line. Likewise, the Quaerens Me is written in motet style for a cappella choir - the ancient polyphonic world of the Palestrinan school through the prism of Berlioz's imagination.

There is quite often this mixture of forward- and backward-looking music, isn't there?

Yes indeed there is. Perhaps most obviously in the Offertorium, Berlioz presents an extraordinarily romantic view of a soul in purgatory. More than any other, this movement recalls the world of Symphonie Fantastique – a churning, broken-up melody which comes back and forth in a quasi-fugal style, but with incredibly expressive feeling. But at the same time the chorus intones a pseudo plainchant theme of two notes, constantly repeated in the manner of a litany – somewhat like Monteverdi's Sonata Sopra Sancta Maria from the 1610 Vespers (although it is extremely unlikely Berlioz would have known this piece). I've always loved the Sanctus - one of the most exquisite pieces of French romanticism you will ever hear. It has both that wonderful sense of colour and ravishing quality of sound that is so very distinctive of French composers. Here, tremolando violas and four solo violins underpin an ethereal flute which hovers over the whole texture, with the high tenor solo in the great haut-contre tradition from Rameau through to Gluck, whose music Berlioz admired so much. In the reprise cymbals and a bass drum are added, like the gentle chains of an enormous thurible censing a high altar. This incredibly sensuous portrayal of heaven, is almost satirically celestial. It is starkly contrasted with an almost clunky and evidently terrestrial fugue. Berlioz of course was never a great contrapuntalist in the technical sense, but the use of old-style fugue at that moment serves to heighten the disparity between heavenly and worldly experiences.

You mention Berlioz's sense of colour – that's really one of the outstanding features of this work isn't it?

Yes, I agree – and sometimes with quite simple effects. One of the most extraordinary moments is in the Hostias section, which is again reprised in the Agnus Dei; Berlioz has flutes playing chords in the highest register whilst the trombones play the deepest pedal notes possible on the instrument. It is the most bizarre effect and I'm not really sure what it means – is it another representation of the heaven and earth idea? I love the end of the Agnus Dei when the drums, who have hitherto played only rolls and isolated notes, beat a funeral march. How typical of Berlioz to save this most obvious effect for the very last bars of the Requiem, as the imaginary cortege leaves the building.

You use French Latin in the recording. Was this particularly important and did it cause any problems for the singers?

I believe this is the first recording of Berlioz to use French Latin, and I think it will be very evident from the first bar how dramatically this changes the vocal colour. For me, to hear Italian vowels, and especially Italian consonants, in French music is profoundly jarring - indeed such consonants disturb the melodic beauty of many of Berlioz's lines. Of course it is always a challenge for choirs to modify their vocal production to encompass a different pronunciation system, but it was possibly an advantage for this half-Polish, half-British choir in that we were all having to adapt our way of singing for a unified conception. I should add that the choir comprised only sopranos, tenors and basses, as is quite common in this period in French music. The mezzos sing the soprano line, with Berlioz supplying occasional lower notes when the line is very high.

How did you assemble the vast number of musicians required for the recording?

The nice thing about this extraordinary project is that it incorporated a range of different ensembles with whom I have relationships. We had both my own Gabrieli choir, in its largest configuration (yet ?!), and the magnificent Wroclaw Philharmonic Choir – really one of the most exciting young choirs on the scene at the moment. Within the orchestra there was a large contingent drawn from the Wroclaw Philharmonic (with whom I have also worked occasionally), and a huge phalanx of Gabrieli brass players. Additionally, we auditioned many wonderful young polish string players to join us, as well as twenty or so brass and percussion players from Chetham's School of Music - wonderfully talented musicians who I've worked with for several years now.

Why did you add students to the ensemble?

For me making music is not just about working your way through repertoire and orchestras, or career building or collecting reviews; it's about the fundamental process of sharing musical experience. I am especially passionate about working with young people and introducing them to as wide a range of music as is possible. I'm particularly interested in trying to encourage historically-informed playing from young musicians at an earlier stage of their musical development and I also think that talented young musicians benefit hugely from being thrown into the professional environment, and learning 'with their ears' and from experience; I think it's an important addition to formal study. Twenty years ago I never dreamt that I would see teenagers playing natural trumpets, and nineteenth-century horns and trombones, let alone playing them to a professional standard. It's great to add young musicians into the professional mix – it makes us all feel younger and keeps us on our toes!

Given your background of working with period instruments, you are naturally careful to perform with the right instruments. How did you go about finding and preparing the necessary instruments for this recording?

I was determined that we should use as many historic instruments as practically possible for this recording and we took a lot of trouble to source a whole range of nineteenth-century brass and percussion instruments. It is this part of the orchestra where the difference is most audible. With modern brass you simply lose a vast range of colour; twelve modern French horns all pitched in F just sounds very loud and a little bit dull! Berlioz's ear for colour is second to none and he writes for high and low horns in virtually every possible key; likewise for natural trumpets, creating a brilliantly open sound in the fanfares. Some more unusual instruments include four cornets à pistons, the French valved cornet of the time; narrow bore trombones, which have a much cleaner attack; smaller tubas, and much rarer ophicleides, which have an altogether extraordinary sound. For the percussion we did a vast amount of research. Adrian Bending, the principal timpanist, was incredibly helpful and sourced proper nineteenth-century timpani (all sixteen of them!), bass drums and massed gongs and cymbals. We even commissioned sticks with exactly the same kind of dried sponge that Berlioz requests. With such drums and sticks the special chordal effects of Berlioz's timpani writing are much more readily audible. With the string players, we weren't able to amass over a hundred musicians able to play on entirely gut strung instruments but many of the players have been trained in "period performance practice", so we took great care with bowing, articulation and graduated vibrato.

For both the performances and the recording, you placed Robert Murray, the tenor soloist, high up in the gallery, some way away from the rest of the players. Why did you do this?

I am generally very slavish about following instructions in a score to the letter, however when listening to a recording, the audience doesn't have the visual clues of a concert performance, so it can be important to use the recording process imaginatively to give the ear the impressions which the eye would otherwise catch. Berlioz gives the most incredible level of detail about how this piece should be performed: the brass ensembles, for instance, should not be placed in the four corners of the building (as is all too frequently done) but on the four corners of the performing ensemble, which makes a significant difference to the sound. Berlioz also describes the building in which the music is made as "the most important of all the musical instruments". Certainly the possibilities offered by the architectural potential of Les Invalides in Paris must have played an important part in the musical conception. I wanted to use the wonderful Gothic church in which we recorded as imaginatively as possible; we got a particularly beautiful sound of an ethereal, disembodied voice by placing the soloist in a high gallery. Given his fabulous sense of the practical, and his love of dramatic effect, I am sure that Berlioz would have adored the possibilities of the recording process; and no doubt he would have soon written a treatise on this!

Why have you launched your own record label?

I had a wonderful time working with Deutsche Grammophon for 15 years. However, the economics of the music business today are such that my artistic aspirations were no longer truly compatible with the direction that they, and most major record companies, seem to wish to take. I realise that I now have to follow my own artistic agenda, although the parting has been a totally amicable one. Of course I am hardly the first artist in recent years to have to face this issue, and it's wonderfully encouraging to see artists now taking control of the recording process and producing recordings that are made with passionate artistic belief, not simply out of convenience and commercial opportunity. Of course the funding required for such endeavours can be a frightening obstacle and I do worry that the large-scale works will be recorded very rarely. But I hope that even if fewer recordings will be made in the future, they will be made with more love, commitment, joy and dedication. This has to be the ethos of all small record companies, including this one. When I became Artistic Director of the festival Wratislavia Cantans, I was delighted that the organisation wanted to work with me as a musical partner to help develop not only the festival but also to engage with the city's orchestras and choirs. It seemed a natural extension of this relationship to make Wroclaw a basis of my recording activity, at least for the major projects, and so I am thrilled that the Wratislavia Cantans oratorio series will be a major part of the new record label.

This was obviously an enormous undertaking on behalf of everyone, particularly the Wratislavia Cantans festival.

Wroclaw is certainly an ambitious cultural centre, but I do feel that it should be my role to push and to challenge. I hope, at my best, to be a breath of fresh air - although I'm sure there are also days when I drive people crazy! It is a great pleasure to work in Wroclaw, because, in the end, they are interested in doing things which are out of the ordinary. They are also very respectful and encouraging of me as a musician. How we managed to put this project together I will never quite understand, but two of the people who were absolutely instrumental in doing so were the festival director Andrzej Kosendiak and the mayor Rafał Dutkiewicz. Both men have a great vision for the role of the arts in people's lives. This, allied with our wonderful Wratislavia Cantans audience, who have been nurtured for many years in the sacred repertoire, create an incredibly special environment in which to make music; it is something that I do not take for granted.

Do you have any particular memories of making the recording?

This has certainly been a project I will never forget! The sheer practical side was overwhelming as literally hundreds of staging units had to be moved and built throughout the night. I have never seen quite so many copies of sheet music. It is certainly awe-inspiring to conduct such an enormous machine, even if the back row of the choir feels miles away. And, after several days you ache in a way which is difficult to describe! The whole process of rehearsal went through a crescendo effect as smaller groups were rehearsed and put together. One of my happiest memories is of the first time we assembled the full ensemble in the vast and beautiful church of Mary Magdalene and played through the Dies Irae. The look of absolute amazement, especially on the young musicians' faces, as we were surrounded by all that cataclysmic and thrilling noise, is something I will never forget. Indeed, even some very experienced musicians were smiling with joy, and I can assure you that doesn't happen too often in a conductor's life!


Chetham's Symphonic Brass Ensemble

Chetham's School of Music is the largest specialist music school in the UK, with almost 300 students aged between 8 and 18, drawn from around the globe. Housed in historic medieval buildings, unique to the North West of England's rich cultural heritage, the school's guiding principles are musical potential and accessibility, not background or the ability to pay. Over 90% of students receive financial support for their tuition.

Offering a cutting edge music programme, every Chetham's student receives choral training in addition to tuition in their specialist instrument. The school gives students a range of exciting musical opportunities, often through collaborations with leading artists. The dynamic partnership established between Chetham's and the Gabrieli Consort and Players is one such initiative.

The Chetham's Symphonic Brass Ensemble features the school's senior players from the brass department, which over the years has developed a reputation for excellence both in the UK and internationally. Students benefit from a broad range of teaching, classes and ensemble training which ensure they are adaptable and at home in a wide variety of situations, be that playing as soloists or in orchestral, big band or period instrument repertoire.

Gabrieli Consort & Players

Founded by Paul McCreesh in 1982, Gabrieli Consort & Players are world-renowned interpreters of great choral and instrumental repertoire, spanning from the renaissance to the present day. Their invigorating performances encompass major works from the oratorio tradition, virtuosic a cappella programmes and mould-breaking reconstructions of music for historical events. Gabrieli are acclaimed for their performances of Handel oratorios and Bach Passions and their past recordings with Deutsche Grammophon have garnered numerous international awards.

Gabrieli are regular visitors to the world's most prestigious concert halls . They are associated artists of the Wratislavia Cantans Festival in Wrocław and have embarked on an exciting partnership with the city's foremost choir, the acclaimed Wrocław Philharmonic Choir, with whom they collaborate on international touring.

Gabrieli are increasingly committed to working with young musicians. In October 2010, the Gabrieli Young Singers' Scheme was launched, establishing partnerships with four leading youth choirs, giving young singers the opportunity to train and perform with Gabrieli's professional musicians. The next recording in this oratorio series will bring this scheme to the recording studio, as members of each choir join Gabrieli and the Wroclaw Philharmonic Choir for a recording of Mendelssohn's majestic oratorio, Elijah.

Paul McCreesh

Paul McCreesh has established himself at the highest levels in both the period instrument and modern orchestral fields and is recognised for his authoritative and innovative performances on the concert platform and in the opera house. Together with the Gabrieli Consort & Players, of which he is the founder and Artistic Director, he has performed in major concert halls and festivals across the world and built a large and distinguished discography for Deutsche Grammophon.

McCreesh works regularly with major orchestras and choirs, and the larger choral repertoire, such as Britten's War Requiem, Brahms' German Requiem and Haydn's The Creation and The Seasons, feature increasingly in his work. He has established a strong reputation in the field of opera conducting productions of Handel, Gluck and Mozart at leading European opera houses.

McCreesh is passionate about working with young musicians and enjoys established collaborations with Chetham's School of Music and many youth orchestras and choirs, both in the UK and internationally. He has been Artistic Director of the Wratislavia Cantans Festival since 2006 and has been Director of Brinkburn Music (in Northumberland, UK) for many years.

Robert Murray

Robert Murray studied at the Royal College of Music and the National Opera Studio.  He won second prize in the Kathleen Ferrier awards 2003 and was a Jette Parker Young Artist at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden.

Murray has established a formidable reputation in the widest range of operatic repertoire, from Classical roles such as Tamino (Die Zauberflöte), Ferrando (Cosi fan tutte) and Don Ottavio (Don Giovanni) to Toni Reischmann (Henze's Elegy For Young Lovers), Benvolio (Romeo et Juliette), Male Chorus (The Rape of Lucretia) and Tom Rakewell (The Rake's Progress). His engagements have included appearances at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden; English National Opera; Opera North; and the Salzburg Festival. His recordings include a recital of Brahms, Poulenc and Barber with Simon Lepper, excerpts from Britten's Gloriana with Edward Gardner for Chandos and he appears on Malcolm Martineau's Complete Poulenc series for Signum.

Wrocław Philharmonic Choir

Wrocław Philharmonic Choir was founded in 2006 and is directed by Agnieszka Franków-Żelazny. The choir has quickly established itself as a leading force in the Polish choral music scene; its dynamic profile encompasses a wide range of a cappella choral music as well as large-scale oratorio and symphonic repertoire. They work most frequently with the Wrocław Philharmonic Orchestra and the Wrocław Baroque Orchestra.

Wrocław Philharmonic Choir are increasingly expanding their work across Europe and recent projects have included partnerships with established groups such as Gabrieli Consort & Players and the NDR Orchestra. They have appeared at many prominent European venues and festivals and were the first Polish choir to appear at the BBC Proms. Known for its adventurous and exciting programing, the choir has worked with conductors Paul McCreesh, Jacek Kaspszyk, Krzysztof Penderecki, James MacMillan, Mike Brewer and Bob Chilcott.

Wrocław Philharmonic Orchestra

Established in 1954, the Wrocław Philharmonic Orchestra is renowned in the repertoire of many of the town's distinguished former visitors, such as Richard Wagner, Johannes Brahms, Edvard Grieg and Gustav Mahler, as well as in the core Polish repertoire. Since 2006, the orchestra has been led by general director Andrzej Kosendiak, a conductor specialising in early and choral repertoire and the dynamic driving force behind many of Wroclaw's cultural initiatives, and artistic director Jacek Kasprzyk, one of the most outstanding Polish conductors of our day.

The orchestra performs a wide range of repertoire in symphonic and chamber formations. They frequently appear at international festivals and have been guests at such renowned venues as Alice Tully Hall, New York; the Vienna Musikverein; and the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam. In 2008, they released the first recording in a series of the complete works of the orchestra's patron, Witold Lutosławski.


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Berlioz Grande Messe des Morts

Berlioz Grande Messe des Morts

Interview with Paul McCreesh