Notes and Editorial Reviews
Berlioz’s Huit Scènes de Faust, was composed between 1828 and 1829, after the composer had been bowled over by the discovery of Goethe’s poem. Of it Berlioz remarked: "The marvellous book fascinated me from the first; I was never without it; I read it all the time, at table, at the theatre, in the street, everywhere". This setting is Berlioz’s choice of eight scenes from Gérard de Nerval’s French translation of Faust but without heed to the dramatic development of the verse play; in fact in Berlioz’s work Faust never appears! Later, in 1846, Berlioz would refashion much of the material into his more celebrated dramatic cantata La Damnation de Faust.
The first of the eight scenes is liturgical in
character, an Easter Hymn for chorus, beautifully conceived and most sensitively sung by the French Radio Choir. In antithesis, the tenor and chorus representing ‘Peasants beneath the lime-trees’ follows a more lewd and earthy celebration with Méphistophélès leading the dance – Jean-Paul Fouchécourt is debonairly devilish in the role. Berlioz’s inspired use of the orchestra is evidenced throughout these eight scenes. In the ‘Concert of the Sylphs’ harp and celesta add magic as the chorus celebrates the joys of the countryside and abandonment to love. Brandon’s song about the indignities imposed on the poisoned kitchen rat (bass Frédéric Caton, finely sardonic) has deliciously ironic writing for the lower woodwinds. Méphistophélè’s Song about the Prince’s flea follows (with Fouchécourt marvellously sarcastic and mincing). Jean-Baptiste Brunier (viola) offers a most moving viola solo in Berlioz’s lovely tribute to the memory of love that is ‘The King of Thule’ with Angelika Kirschlager sensitive if not always the model of clarity. She is plaintive and love-struck in ‘Marguérite’s Song’ with its exquisite cor anglais solo (full marks to another French Radio Orchestra soloist, Stéphane Schanek). Marguerite’s ecstasy at the thought of the approaching Faust (with sensuously shuddering strings) is rudely interrupted by the approaching virile ‘Soldiers’ Chorus’ with drums and trumpets as the men sing of lusty conquests. Finally ‘Méphistophélès’ Serenade’ is a cheeky warning to Marguérite that she will not emerge from her night of love as a maiden and that she should hold out for a wedding ring.
Liszt was, of course, very much influenced by Goethe’s poem: think of the piano works, Malédiction, the Mephisto Waltzes, the Mephisto Polka and the enigmatic B minor sonata; and, of course the Faust Symphony. But here Liszt takes as his inspiration the Austrian poet Nikolaus Lenau, not Goethe. In the first episode, however, material familiar from the aforementioned works is apparent. The Dance at the Inn is a mix of rustic dance with diabolical comment and an amorous waltz that Sado delivers with zest and incision. The intense and atmospheric Nocturnal Procession pitching the forces of light and darkness, has creepy menace and is somewhat reminiscent of Berlioz’s Harold in Italy Pilgrims March.
Wagner’s Faust Overture was first conceived as an Overture to Goethe’s Faust in 1840 after Wagner had attended a performance of Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliet in Paris the previous year. Wagner later reworked the piece in 1855 as his Faust Overture. Sado unleashes its climax in a controlled but diabolical frenzy before it closes in ambiguous calm.
Less familiar musical versions of the Faust legend in stylish performances.
-- Ian Lace, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Faust Overture by Richard Wagner
Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1840-1844; Germany
Scènes (8) de Faust, Op. 1 by Hector Berlioz
Frédéric Caton (Bass),
Angelika Kirchschlager (Mezzo Soprano),
Jean-Paul Fouchécourt (Tenor)
Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra,
Radio France Chorus
Written: 1828-1829; France
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