Berlioz, the fourth B
by Joel Kasow
PARIS - Where would Berlioz be today without Sir Colin Davis? After the
efforts of Monteux and Munch, Davis took over, recording just about everything
and now giving us the benefit of his latest thoughts. Yes, there have been other
noted Berliozians, but Davis remains preeminent. All I can say about his new
recording of Roméo is that it ranks with Monteux, than which
there is no higher praise to my mind. There is the combination of restraint
combined with touches of madness which make the music of Berlioz come alive.
Davis knows exactly how to combine these two opposing elements to make his
interpretations of this reputedly difficult music sizzle.
The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra - no stranger to Berlioz even thought
they don't perform his music with any degree of regularity - rises to the
challenge while the Bavarian Radio Chorus rarely betrays its origins with more
than acceptable French. The vocal soloists are placed too far forward so that
Olga Borodina's remarkable interpretation suffers from the lack of distance.
Thomas Moser sounds matter of fact in the Queen Mab solo, but Alastair Miles' Frère
Laurent pleasantly surprised me with a newly acquired authority. A must
Unfortunately, Charles Dutoit was having an off day during the recording
sessions for Damnation de Faust : the performance is too polite, lacking
in dynamism, too smooth. The orchestral playing or singing cannot be faulted but
there is something lacking which would impose a coherence on the performance. It
is unfortunate because Françoise Pollet, Richard Leech and Gilles
Cachemaille have something to offer which simply falls flat. The addition of a
third disc with 27 unlabeled minutes crudely excerpted from Dutoit's recording
of Les Troyens strikes me as unlikely to stimulate purchases of the set
under review and even more unlikely to incite listeners to purchase the opera in
A pleasant surprise is the reissue of Davis's first recording of Béatrice
et Bénédict, which even without dialogue remains the most
vivacious version of a work teeming with charm. Josephine Veasey and John
Mitchinson remain unsurpassed in the title roles, and Davis's evident relishing
of an unfamiliar work is evident throughout, communicating to the listener from
the very start. The set is rounded out by one of John Eliot Gardiner's first
recordings (dating from 1967) of Berlioz featuring the freshly founded
Monteverdi Choir. Thanks to Decca for the reissue on Caractère, two discs
for the price of one.
ROMEO ET JULIETTE. Olga Borodina (mezzo-soprano),
Thomas Moser (tenor), Alastair Miles (bass).
Sir Colin Davis,
the Bavarian Radio Chorus and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
442 134-2. (2 cds)
LA DAMNATION DE FAUST. Françoise Pollet (Marguérite);
Richard Leech (Faust); Gilles Cachemaille (Mephistophélès); Michel
Charles Dutoit, conductor
the Chorus and
l'Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal
DECCA 444 812-2 (2 cds).
BEATRICE ET BENEDICT. Josephine Veasey (Béatrice);
John Mitchinson (Bénédict); April Cantelo (Héro); John
Cameron (Claudio); Helen Watts (Ursule); John Shirley-Quirk (Don Pédro);
Eric Shilling (Somarone). Sir Colin Davis conducint the St. Anthony Singers and
the London Symphony Orchestra. Irlande, Le Trébuchet, La Mort d'Ophélie,
Chant de la fête de Pâques. April Cantelo (soprano), Helen Watts
(alto), Robert Tear (tenor), Richard Salter (bass), Viola Tunnard (piano). John
Eliot Gardiner conducting the Monteverdi Choir (2 cds). DECCA 448 113-2.
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