BERLIOZ Roméo et Juliette
It is encouraging to find the LSO Live series of super-budget discs developing like this with such an ambitious issue. The first two, rather unadventurously, and also with Sir Colin conducting, were of popular symphonies Dvorak symphonies (Nos 8 and 9, reviewed 4/00), but here we have a recording of this Berlioz masterpiece which in important ways builds on what Sir Colin has revealed to us in his two previous versions, both for Philips.
This two-disc issue preserves what by any reckoning was an electrifying event at the Barbican in January. The live recording was edited from two separate concerts, so ironing out irritating flaws of the moment, while offering the extra dramatic thrust of a live performance. That is most strikingly illustrated in the concluding chorus, a passage that has often been felt to let the rest of the work down, but which here provides an incandescent climax, silencing any doubts.
That said, the differences between this live recording and Davis’s two studio ones are less a question of interpretation than of recording balance and quality. Davis’s view of the work has remained fundamentally unchanged, though his speeds at the Barbican are marginally broader until the concluding sections from Juliet’s funeral onwards, which now flow more easily.
The live Barbican recording may not match in opulence either the 1993 one with the Vienna Philharmonic or the 1968 one with the LSO, for the Barbican acoustic is drier. Yet the refinement of the sound this time, with orchestra and chorus set at a slight distance, brings pianissimos of breathtaking delicacy, focused in fine detail. Not only the Love scene but the choral recitatives gain greatly from that, as does the lovely passage before the Love scene where the Capulets return home after the party. The ‘Queen Mab Scherzo’, too, gains in lightness and delicacy.
The three young soloists are first-rate, characterising strongly. The Italian, Daniela Barcellona (spotted by our talent scout in April, page 23), controls her vibrant mezzo well in the Strophes, and the American tenor, Kenneth Tarver, sings his ‘Scherzetto’ with fluency and sparkle, while the tangily Slavonic timbre of the Bulgarian bass, Orlin Anastassov, stands out well in the Friar Lawrence episodes. It will be a pity if having this on the LSO Live label, with its limited availability, reduces its circulation, yet everyone will appreciate the benefit of getting such a fine modern recording at so reasonable a price.