My only small criticism of this CD reissue of Sir Colin Davis's admirable Werther is the break point between the two discs. It comes just as Charlotte and Werther are knuckling down to their first serious confrontation in Act 2, and it annoyingly breaks the tension just before Werther's ''Ah! qu'il est loin ce jour!''.
One only minds this so much, of course, because the ebb and flow of word and music, the warm, tremulous life of the string playing, and the pacing of each tableau vivant is handled so superbly by Sir Colin that there is not a single moment of longueur, The Royal Opera House orchestra play at their very best: the solo detail and the velocity of their every response to Massenet's flickering orchestral palette operates as if with heightened awareness under the scrutiny of the laser beam.
The casting polarizes this Werther and this Charlotte. Jose Carreras is very much a Werther of action rather than of dream, of impetuous self-destruction rather than of brooding lyricism. The real elan he brings to lines like ''Reve! Extase! Bonheur!'' is more impressive than the conjuring of ''l'air d'un paradis'', where the voice can be over-driven at the top. So far as style, line and inflection are concerned, Frederica von Stade's performance can hardly be faulted. Her voice is the very incarnation of Charlotte's essential simplicity of character; but there are times when one could wish for a darker tinta to find the shadows in the role, and to bring a greater sense of the undercurrent of emotional conflict as it grows towards the last two acts.
Thomas Allen finds unusual breadth in this Albert, noting the slightest giveaway flutter in the line: when he sings ''j'en ai tant au fond du coeur'' one does actually begin to believe there may be depths there of which one is too often kept ignorant. Isobel Buchanan's is a small-scale, straightforward Sophie, a real ''oiseau d'aurore'', ready to fly away into the emotion of each changing moment.'