Notes and Editorial Reviews
The Damnation of Faust, like so many of Berlioz's larger works, has not been terribly lucky on disc, but this live performance belongs near the top of the heap. It has those qualities that we have come to identify as particularly "French": clarity, good rhythm, careful attention to detail, bright colors, and a certain unsentimental directness that serves the music particularly well while never precluding real passion. It also captures that sense of urgency, of feverishness, that makes Berlioz so hard to perform. Perhaps it's the circumstance of live performance, but the piece comes off sounding fresh, spontaneous, and free of dead spots, and that's saying a lot. The orchestra plays brilliantly, and the Slovak Philharmonic Choir
sounds like it's having the time of its life (particularly the carousing students and soldiers at the end of Part II).
The soloists are very good, if not quite perfect. Best is Alain Vernhes, who hams up Mephistopheles with vaudevillian relish. Marie-Ange Todorovitch sounds a bit matronly as Marguerite, and she rushes through her "King of Thule" ballad, but she rises to the occasion in "D'amour l'ardente flamme", which has plenty of feeling. As Faust, Michael Myers starts to sound pretty stressed in the second half of the work, no doubt one drawback in recording live, but he and Todorovitch turn in a wonderfully impulsive and intense love duet, and the "Ride to the Abyss" is thrilling. The entire scene in pandemonium is as well done as it ever has been, with Casadesus and company pulling out all of the stops, while the conclusion in heaven avoids any hint of saccharine religiosity.
There are a few other good performances out there: Gardiner, Ozawa, and best of all Markevitch (slightly cut), and all have their particular strengths and weaknesses. This one certainly has the finest sound, and if pressed to choose a version that really does capture the work in all of its myriad facets, I would be remiss in not giving this newcomer a strong recommendation. The only slight drawback is the lack of libretto, which you can find easily enough on the Naxos website. In sum, this is a very pleasant surprise, and unquestionably a major release. The budget price really seals the deal.
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com Read less
Works on This Recording
La damnation de Faust, Op. 24 by Hector Berlioz
Marie-Ange Todorovitch (Mezzo Soprano),
Alain Vernhes (Baritone),
René Schirrer (Bass),
Philippe Gérard (English Horn),
Michael Myers (Tenor)
Lille National Orchestra,
Slovak Philharmonic Choir
Written: 1845-1846; France
Venue: Live New Century Auditorium, Lille, France
Length: 123 Minutes 45 Secs.
Notes: New Century Auditorium, Lille, France (11/04/2003 - 11/05/2003)
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