BERLIOZ Harold in Italy. Les Nuits d'Été

Period instruments for Byronic Berlioz

Author: 
Geoffrey Norris

BERLIOZ Harold in Italy. Les Nuits d'Été

  • Harold en Italie
  • (Les) Nuits d'été
  • (La) Damnation de Faust, Le Roi de Thulé

Berlioz’s Harold en Italie lends itself well to the period-instrument treatment offered to it by Les Musiciens du Louvre. The orchestra started out in 1982 as a specialist in the Baroque and then the Classical repertoires but has been pushing forward to embrace significant works by French composers of the early 19th century as well. The particular qualities that come across in Harold en Italie are, first and foremost, that Berlioz’s orchestration is rendered with such clarity of definition in terms of individual and blended instrumental colours, and that the partnership between the orchestra and the solo viola is on a more equal footing than can sometimes be the case with the ampler sound of what has become the orchestral norm.

That is not to say that Les Musiciens du Louvre lack anything in sinew and substance. Far from it. The Byronic narrative is graphically portrayed under the baton of Marc Minkowski, and Antoine Tamestit’s viola, warm of tone and expressively malleable as it is in his hands, cuts a dash as the music’s Romantic hero. Paganini, for whom Harold en Italie was originally envisaged, frowned at the solo part because it was not to his virtuoso taste, but he would surely have softened at hearing the emotional range and vibrancy that Tamestit manages to elicit from it. The coupling of Les nuits d’été is similarly well judged, Anne Sofie von Otter’s mature insight into the music’s spectrum of feeling matched by the orchestra’s eloquent, atmospheric, limpid support.

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