Berlioz La damnation de Faust

Author: 
John Warrack

Berlioz La damnation de Faust

  • (La) Damnation de Faust

Though now over a dozen years old, this magnificent performance has well stook the test of time. That need not be a surprise; it is also welcome to be able to confirm that the actual recording still seems vivid, fresh and true to Berlioz's superb orchestral imaginings even when techniques of recording have taken such strides forward. There is here a sensitive and well-ordered balance, attention to the details that mean so much in the orchestral conception, a quick ear for the often surprising and original effects (such as Berlioz's love of viola tone), and a decent, careful balance between orchestra and voices.
Sir Colin Davis's performances has the grandeur and excitement of Berlioz's vision of romantic man compassing his own damnation by being led to test and reject one of life's consolations after another. No other conductor has made so much of the Hungarian March, for instance. It is easily heard as an intruder into even this disparate design, making its disproportionate appearance simply because Berlioz couldn't resist it. Not so with Davis, who takes it at face value and, seeing it as the temptation to military glory now luring Faust, plays it with an increasingly furious tension until all the brave panoply suddenly turns frantic and self-destructive. This hope of redemption is exposed. So, one by one, are the others. The sweet allurings of the Elbe scene are as delicate as anything in Berlioz's music, and Davis does not miss them, but he also underlines the Mephistophelian deception which is so treacherous in the accompaniment to ''Voici des roses''. Even the somewhat shoddy vision of Pandemonium makes a fierce show, though no one can really do much for the final transfiguration.
The singers are very much within this fine and faithful concept of the work. Gedda was still in his prime when he made this recording; he is still an incomparably elegant, noble Faust, whose very gentleness is turned by the cold, sneering, ironic Mephistopheles of Jules Bastin to his own destruction. Josephine Veasey is a touching Marguerite, with a simplicity that is essential in her two most important numbers, the King of Thule ballad and ''D'amour l'ardente flamme''; and Richard Van Allan knocks off a jovial version of Brander's song. Chorus and orchestra clearly enjoyed the whole enterprise, and rose to the occasion. It is splendid to have it back in the new medium.'

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