BERLIOZ Harold en Italie. La mort de Cléopâtre
These two works are impressively recorded. The sound is particularly full and spacious; even listening on ordinary stereo equipment, Berlioz’s evocative writing is fully realised – as in the gloomy mountain scenery at the start of Harold, and the effect of the Pilgrims’ March gradually receding as evening falls.
This performance of the symphony makes an interesting contrast with another LSO Live version dating from 2003, with Colin Davis and Tabea Zimmermann (Tamestit’s teacher). The sound quality here is more direct, less evocative; and though both performances are very well played, Davis imparts a greater urgency and stronger expressive character to his interpretation. In the first movement’s coda, the playing is more precise, with more sense of mounting excitement, while the trombones in the finale appear more menacing. In the Pilgrims’ March, there’s a case for the off-key C natural bell to appear more distant, less disruptive, as with Gergiev, but by the side of Davis, his phrasing of the Hymn seems rather too smooth and bland. There’s not much to choose between the two soloists; both play beautifully. Tamestit is perhaps more of a passive observer while Zimmermann pushes herself more to the foreground, but both approaches are convincing.
Karen Cargill gives a gripping account of The Death of Cleopatra, clearly relishing the music’s graphic portrayal of a woman in a state of mental torment. The performance gathers force as it proceeds – her slow chromatic descent as the poison takes effect is breathtaking, while Berlioz’s extraordinary ending is fully realised through the brilliance of the LSO’s string section.