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Berlioz: Roméo et Juliette, Les nuits d'été / Levine, Von Otter

Release Date: 12/26/2007 
Label:  Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog #: 427665   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Hector Berlioz
Performer:  James MorrisPhilip LangridgeAnne Sofie von Otter
Conductor:  James Levine
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic OrchestraBerlin RIAS Chamber ChorusErnst Senff Chamber Choir
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

James Levine's direction makes the most of Romeo et Juliette's drama, emotional intensity and changing moods. Von Otter's tonal beauty is striking, with magically hushed pianissimos and, at times, almost unbearable emotion.

There are several choral contributions in Romeo et Juliette—setting the scene after the orchestral introduction, echoing the tenor's words in his scherzetto about Queen Mab, representing the revellers departing after the Capulets' ball, intoning a dirge for Juliet, and, with the bass soloist, providing a massive finale to the whole work—but it is the orchestra, deployed with all Berlioz's remarkable imaginative ear, which provides the essence of this ''dramatic symphony''. From this aspect the
Read more present performance ranks high: the Berlin Phil's playing is predictably immaculate, with beautifully rounded, full and non-blaring brass, and Levine's direction makes the most of all the work's drama, emotional intensity and changing moods—an impassioned ''Romeo seul'', a heartfelt ''Scene d'amour'' with a rich climax, an airy Queen Mab Scherzo with great outbursts, and an extremely vivid ''delirious joy, anguish and death'' of the two lovers. The resonant but clean acoustic of the Jesus-Christus church in Berlin gives this performance a warmer, slightly more diffuse sound than Dutoit's lean and lithe Decca reading—could a few rather exaggerated internal pauses be due to a wish to clear the atmosphere?—and the wide dynamic range is captured with complete fidelity. (In the first choral movement a minute change of pitch between a D minor brass chord and a D major chord on the harp immediately after it makes one suspect a tape splice.)

Recordings of the Nuits d'ete cycle have, for me, always been dominated by Regine Crespin's superb Decca performance, with its touching tonal colourings and meaningful words. Bernadette Greevy's Chandos version is very fine (AB's mild doubts about some shrillness in her ''Villanelle'' may perhaps be attributed to the fact that she sings it in A major, a higher key than any of her rivals); but von Otter is even better. (For those interested in such things, she takes ''Villanelle'' in F and ''L'ile inconnue'' in E, like Baker; ''Au cimetiere'' in B flat, like Greevy; and ''Absence'' down in E flat.) More flexible in tempo, and in two songs—''Le spectre de la rose'' and ''Au cimetiere''—moving ahead more than the other artists, the effect she produces is wholly idiomatic. She shows a fine sense of phrase, and her tonal beauty is striking, with a magically hushed pianissimo in ''Au cimetiere'' and a lovely mezza voce in the last verse of ''Absence'' (where Greevy, ignoring the mf markings, uses this ravishing effect in each verse): in ''Sur les lagunes'' she invests the opening words ''Ma belle amie est morte'' with almost unbearable emotion. As with Crespin, the words ''mais ne crains rien'' in ''Le spectre de la rose'' are sensitively coloured, though she can't quite match Crespin's opulent tonal opening-up at ''J'arrive du paradis''. Levine's accompaniments are admirable, and his violins' skirls in ''L'ile inconnue'' are the cleanest of any.

-- Lionel Salter, Gramophone [8/1990]
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Works on This Recording

Roméo et Juliette, Op. 17 by Hector Berlioz
Performer:  James Morris (Bass Baritone), Philip Langridge (Tenor), Anne Sofie von Otter (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  James Levine
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra,  Berlin RIAS Chamber Chorus,  Ernst Senff Chamber Choir
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1839; France 
Les nuits d'été, Op. 7 by Hector Berlioz
Performer:  Anne Sofie von Otter (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  James Levine
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra,  Berlin RIAS Chamber Chorus,  Ernst Senff Chamber Choir
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1840-1841; France 

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