BERLIOZ Harold en Italie
The undulating semiquavers on basses and cellos that open Harold en Italie sound rather workaday, certainly in comparison with Sir Colin Davis’s classic Philharmonia version, but when the upper strings and woodwinds gain greater prominence, things move more smoothly. Lisa Berthaud’s first viola solo, backed by the harp and interspersed with expressive clarinets, is beautifully played. Slatkin lilts us into the main Allegro as persuasively as anyone this side of the analogue divide and throughout the whole of the first movement (played with repeat), the to ing and fro ing between soloist and orchestra is admirably conversational. The second-movement March is mostly hushed, the violins especially magical as Berthaud plays her sul ponticello arpgeggios from 4'00", whereas the accented oboes and clarinets at the start of the Serenade are rather louder than the prescribed mezzo-forte, or is it that they’re rather too closely balanced? The orgiastic finale plays on the most prominent quality in this particular production, an impressive richness of orchestral tone. The various ‘references back’ that open the movement work well; and while levels of heated ferocity, although real enough, don’t quite match Bernstein, Munch or, to hark back even further, Koussevitzky, Beecham and Toscanini, the sense of yearning in the quieter music taps an emotional source that many others don’t reach.
The two overtures are excellently played, both benefiting from Slatkin’s familiar skill at clarifying orchestral textures. Although not ‘surround sound’, the recording may as well be, given the degree of aural perspective achieved. Again, darker textures sound notably impressive (Benvenuto Cellini comes off especially well in this respect) and the gently discursive Rêverie et Caprice finds a sympathetic interpreter in Giovanni Radivo, whose approach approximates the intimacy of Grumiaux, Szigeti and Menuhin.