Berlioz Overtures

Author: 
John Warrack

Berlioz Overtures

  • (Les) Francs-juges
  • Waverley
  • King Lear
  • (Le) carnaval romain
  • Béatrice et Bénédict, Overture
  • (Le) Corsaire
  • Benvenuto Cellini, Overture

Berlioz’s seven overtures fit comfortably into an hour and a quarter, in performances that reflect Sir Colin’s long absorption with music that remains difficult, original, surprising. The most extrovert, the Ball Scene in Le carnaval romain, is exhilaratingly played, but done so without the strenuous attempts after excitement at all costs, through speed and volume, which are all too familiar. The music is more interesting than that, its tensions more dramatic. What are perhaps the two hardest overtures to play successfully, Waverley and King Lear, benefit from some understatement, especially in the quieter sections when, particularly in Lear, a sense of trouble animates the music. As elsewhere, Berlioz’s melodies made out of awkward rhythms and uneven metres call for a skilled hand: nowhere is this more evident than at the opening of Benvenuto Cellini, whose oddity does not immediately strike the listener but whose ‘rightness’ is proved by its wonderful verve. Davis handles this superbly, as in different vein he does the soft music answering the opening of Le carnaval romain, in which he is given some beautiful playing (especially from the cor anglais) by the Dresden orchestra. They respond to his understanding of the different levels of tension and expression, as well as different dynamic levels, at which Berlioz can make his effects, such as at the start of Les francs-juges. Sometimes a slight emphasis in the accompaniment, even the touch of warmth on a single note, can illuminate much in the melody. It is all beautifully done.'

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