This is a delightful recording from a conductor more closely allied than any other to Berlioz's music. With Berlioz the devil is always in the detail; he was an extraordinary orchestrator and capable of writing unidiomatically for instruments–especially the woodwinds–in order to get exactly the sound he wanted. Or rather, sounds, for the whole texture is made up of many layers. Davis understands this as if by instinct, and draws some beautiful playing from the instrumentalists without ever losing sight of the whole picture. It has been said that the French style of phrasing is all foreplay and no climax: the singers bring this teasing quality to their long, flowing lines but with a charmingly English home-counties blush too. Elsie Moris's light tone is a perfect match for Peter Pears' cool, silvery voice in this respect - and the choir too makes a good full sound without ever getting too heavy. The two discs also include some other gems from the pen of this most idiosyncratic of composers.
Les Troyens is a tour de force that ranges from fiery military marches to intense choruses, passionate soliloquies and the lyrical love duets of Dido and Aeneas. For Hector Berlioz, librettist and composer, the opera became the work of decades and the passion of a lifetime, the culmination of his literary love affair with Virgil's Aeneid and with two tragic heroines, Cassandra and Dido. David McVicar's staging is on an enormous scale, assembling one of the largest casts ever seen at Covent Garden. The sweeping theme of the rise and fall of empires runs throughout Les Troyens, along with moving meditations on love and honour.
Colin Davis’s 1969 recording remains a landmark event, the first time this grand opera of Meyerbeerian length, spectacular éclat and Wagnerian artistic ambition had found its way complete onto LP. It effectively changed views about Berlioz the opera composer and orchestral genius and has for many remained the yardstick by which all later performances have been judged. Although studio recorded, it was based on the Covent Garden casting of the day – Jon Vickers’s heroic Aeneas and Josephine Veasey’s voluptuous Dido – with a couple of Frenchmen to boost the ranks of lesser Trojans and Carthaginians…
This imaginative staging of Berlioz's dramatic symphony for chorus, soloists and orchestra relies heavily on the moving of massed choirs across a large stage. It has vivid lighting effects–rather too many of them using strobes–and monolithic multi-purpose sets, in particular a revolving glass drum which functions both as cinema screen and rostrum for singers, so that the final ride to Hell, for example, is sung by Mephistopheles and Faust above a cavalcade of projected horses, like the inside of a zoetrope. The three main soloists have voices on a scale that can compete with these flashy production values–White and Kasarova, in particular, sing at a level of intensity that would swamp anything less; the climactic seduction trio has rarely been sung so well or with such an overpoweringly polymorphous eroticism. Cambreling marshals his forces effectively, giving full rein to the work's showstoppers like the "Hungarian March" but not neglecting the subtler less kinetic Gluckian side of Berlioz's vocal writing. (Roz Kaveney)
…This is a performance that holds your attention from first note to last–a rare feat in this work. (Munch's later Deutsche Grammophon effort pales by comparison, both sonically and interpretively.) If you want this Berlioz Requiem (and you do), SACD is the way to hear it.
The nine-time Juno-winning Canadian James Ehnes is centre stage in a new recording of orchestral works by Berlioz, with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Andrew Davis. This recording was made following an extraordinary concert in November 2014 with the same forces, in which James Ehnes played two instruments made by Stradivarius, respectively a viola in the solo part of Harold en Italie – ‘symphony with a principal viola part’, in Berlioz’s words – and a violin in the solo of Rêverie et Caprice, both of which works feature here.
John Eliot Gardiner conducts his Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique through two concerts of Berlioz compositions. The 'Symphonie Fantastique' is an orchestral tour de force which is central to the repertoire of every major orchestra. It is performed here on original instruments in its original 1830s orchestration in the atmospheric old hall of the Paris Conservatoire where it was first heard. Also included is the first performance of the newly discovered 'Messe Solennelle' with the Monteverdi choir. Written when Berlioz was just 20 years old, it was thought lost until its rediscovery in 1992. The first performance of this large-scale Mass for 150 years was filmed in London's Westminster Cathedral. Gardiner's period-instrument orchestra gives characteristically idiomatic performances of these seminal works (which are also linked thematically, through Berlioz's extensive re-use of material from the Messe).
"Alain Lombard is among the leading French conductors from the latter half of the twentieth century. He has held numerous prestigious positions both in the operatic and orchestral realms. Lombard is best known for his interpretations of French opera, particularly of Bizet's Carmen, Gounod's Faust and Romeo et Juliette, Delibes' Lakmé, and Massenet's Werther. He has also garnered notice for his Puccini and Verdi, as well as for instrumental works by Berlioz, Debussy, and Ravel. Lombard's repertory is hardly limited to French and Italian music, however, as it takes in chunks of Prokofiev, Mahler, Mendelssohn, Mozart, and many others. He has made numerous recordings since the 1960s for a range of labels, including EMI, Elektra, Erato, Forlane, and Valois…"