Berlioz Orchestral and Vocal Works

Author: 
John Warrack

Berlioz Orchestral and Vocal Works

  • Lélio, ou Le retour à la vie
  • Béatrice et Bénédict, Overture
  • Béatrice et Bénédict, Entr'acte
  • (Les) Troyens, '(The) Trojans', Royal Hunt and Storm
  • (Les) Nuits d'été
  • (La) Mort de Cléopâtre, '(The) Death of Cleopa
  • Symphonie fantastique
  • Benvenuto Cellini, Overture
  • (Le) carnaval romain

Some of Boulez's finest Berlioz performances are gathered together in this very welcome compendium. Not the least of the pleasures is the association of the Symphonie fantastique with its pendant Lelio: they are not a required coupling, of course, but there is a special pleasure in hearing the unforgettable tones of Jean-Louis Barrault (he who once memorably played Berlioz on film) as he revives after the drug-induced nightmare. Barrault speaks so beautifully that the ramshackle concoction of some very mixed inspirations becomes a rich Berliozian experience. The symphony is given a formidable performance, terrifyingly formidable in the measured tread of the ''March to the Scaffold'', somewhat too much so where the waltz should charm, even if ironically, and making a morose landscape of the ''Scene aux champs''. But it is a sustained and valid performance which does not seek to make the work into a vehicle for personal virtuosity (as in different ways so many conductors have done), and conjures up Berlioz's dark romantic vision.
As can be seen, the Nuits d'ete songs are shared. Berlioz first wrote them for mezzo-soprano or tenor and piano, then rewriting them to some extent and transposing the first three for the orchestral vision, probably because he then had particular singers in mind for each song. Boulez keeps to the orchestral version of the key sequence (which not all do) and divides them equally between male and female voices. So Stuart Burrows sings a fresh, lively ''Villanelle'', and this is followed by Yvonne Minton's richly phrased ''Spectre de la rose'' and ''Sur les lagunes'' (in which she takes, successfully, the option of a low F). Burrows returns for ''Absence'', which he sings admirably, though without stifling regrets that this of all songs might have suited Minton and the mezzo-soprano timbre (many will remember Janet Baker here). He also sings ''Au cimetiere'', leaving Minton to finish the cycle off with her warm performance of ''L'ile inconnue''. There can be no question of an authentic version when Berlioz left so many options open; this is a compromise, and even if one may have other preferences, it works well. Yvonne Minton goes on to show not only a fine voice but fine musicianship as she sustains Boulez in holding La mort de Cleopatre together so well. Berliozians will recognize one or two familiar ideas in this remarkable piece, notably one that was to serve again in Benvenuto Cellini, whose overture is given a sharp, vigorous performance here.'

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