BERLIOZ Harold in Italy
Though Harold in Italy is very much the main work, this issue is as much about Liszt as Berlioz. This is because the arrangements of a song and two late piano pieces, plus the Romance oubliée, are interleaved with the movements of the symphony, and because Liszt’s arrangement of Berlioz’s orchestral score is a creative achievement in its own right. The Liszt transcriptions are all extremely effective, especially the high viola in unison with piano octaves in the first part of Schlaflos! Frage und Antwort, which conveys most vividly the impression of desperate insomniac anxiety. They also complement the symphonic movements next to which they are placed: the melancholy of Nuages gris provides an apt introduction to the first movement, and the romantic Oh! quand je dors makes a delightful pendant to the symphony’s Serenade.
In transferring Harold to the piano quite a lot is inevitably lost – the misty landscape at the start, the smooth, vocal phrasing of the Pilgrims’ evening prayer, and the folksy sonorities at the start of the Serenade. But much is entirely convincing on viola and piano; the first movement, where the viola has the most active role, particularly so. Other beautiful passages are the viola’s arpeggios in the Pilgrims’ March and the reminiscences at the start of the finale. Jennifer Stumm’s playing is remarkably refined, yet with a wide expressive range, and Elizabeth Pridgen really comes into her own with the Brigands’ Orgy, a severe test of virtuoso ability at which she succeeds triumphantly.