When we think of the Berlioz Requiem, it is usually the spectacular parts that dominate our memory. The four brass bands, quadraphonically placed, that simulate the last trumpet and usher in the "Tuba mirum," an evocation of the resurrection of the dead and the last judgment on a scale to rival Michelangelo.
The sound of strong men sobbing in the first vocal entry of the "Requiem aeternam." The exultant leap of sound in the "Rex tremendae." The massive battery of tympani, like distant thunder, that hold dialogue with the voices and punctuate the words in the "Lacrymosa."
But these are a relatively small part of the composition lasting nearly an hour and a half, into which Berlioz pours not only the terror and sorrow but the hushed, religious awe and the curious consolation of romanticism's preoccupation with the mystery of death.
Concentrate too much on the sheer size and muscle of the Requiem - in memory, in discussion or in interpretation - and you seriously damage its subtle, endlessly varied, precisely expressive texture. It is the mistake conductors are most likely to make, but it was superbly avoided last night at the Kennedy Center by Daniel Barenboim conducting the Orchestre de Paris and its amazing chorus.
The muscle was there abundantly when it was needed - not only in the brass of the "Tuba mirum" but in the low male voices that managed to come in without anticlimax after that spectacular introduction, and in the full chorus and orchestra again and again.
But there was even more art, more musicianship, in the tenors' subtle handling of the "Quid sum miser," following perfectly the composer's instructions to convey "a feeling of humility" - always difficult for tenors. And in the contrasts of staccato and legato in the "Kyrie," a strikingly succinct and effective setting of that ancient plea for divine mercy.
Flaws were few and slight: one tentative choral entry in the "Hostias"; a bit too much vibrato in the voice of Stuart Burrows, who sang the work's only solo with exemplary tone and phrasing. The prolonged standing ovation at the end was one of the most richly deserved in the history of the Kennedy Center.