This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.
Notes and Editorial Reviews
Though there are currently six recordings of Berlioz’s highly demanding dramatic symphony in the catalogue, ranging from Toscanini’s fairly eccentric 1947 broadcast and Charles Munch’s well-judged 1953 version to several more recent ones, the deletion of Sir Colin Davis’s 1968 Philips set (12/68) has left a gap. Others have come and gone, Ozawa (DG, 6/88 – nla) in at one ear and out of the other, Muti (EMI, 1/87 – nla) engaging mind and imagination much more though not drawing as near to Berlioz as others, Gardelli and Inbal still hanging on but not really laying much claim on listeners who respond to the range and depth and colour and drama of Berlioz’s bold symphonic vision of Shakespeare. Charles Dutoit’s 1986 set was one of the better
in his uneven Berlioz cycle, which has seen some major troughs as well as peaks such as this. “Clear-headed but sensitive” was LS’s judicious comment, which could apply to much of Dutoit’s Berlioz playing; but these are also qualities which can slacken into a more inert and absent-minded manner in too much of his Damnation de Faust (see above) and Troyens (Decca, 12/94). For those who wanted a more modern version of Romeo, clarifying much that was difficult to hear in Davis’s first recording, Dutoit’s version had much to commend it.
Davis’s return to the piece is more than welcome. He has not substantially rethought what was by some way the finest recorded performance, but he has lived through the music again and been allowed by the recording to clarify what was before in places obscure. The most obvious instance occurs with the very opening, the hurtling fugato as the warring Montagus and Capulets clash in the streets of Verona, to be rebuked by the tromboning Prince. But the gains are also musically more positive. This is one of Berlioz’s subtlest scores as regards orchestral detail, which is saying a great deal. Time and again the markings show a sharpness of ear which can indicate a small group of instruments each at a different dynamic level, with implications for the dramatic effect. The blend of horn and cello in the Love Scene does not merely associate them but makes a new tone of their combination; the same is true of cor anglais, bassoon and horn in the Invocation, and there are countless other such instances. Davis uses the warmth and softness of the Vienna Philharmonic to make the most of this aspect of the music, where the acuter definitions of a French or an English orchestra might suggest a different approach. It is extremely intelligent conducting.
As before, Davis has the instinct for Berlioz’s long, irregular melodic lines, for the unpredictable harmonic tinge that confers poignancy or tension, for the rhythmic swerves, for the abrupt dramatic contrasts that can move the music in a startling direction. “Queen Mab” flies with a sense of real pace, where other conductors can suppose that making the violins play as fast as possible does the trick, and he finds room for the graphic details such as the fanfaring horns, the snoring bassoon for the soldier dreaming of “breaches, ambuscadoes, Spanish blades”. Thomas Moser sings the vocal version of “Queen Mab” with a verve and wit that make it all sound easy, which it is not. There is a caressing oboe solo in the Larghetto of “Romeo seul”, with a gentle ebb and flow of tempo over the steady sighing of the bass-line. Olga Borodina is excellent in the Strophes, phrasing with a long but internally detailed line which is essentially Berliozian, and adding just the right throb of vibrato when he lovingly asks for it at the sacred word “Shakespeare”. Alastair Miles has more difficulty with the problematic role of Friar Laurence, and his French is less secure than that of the others, but this cantata finale, never the strongest part of the work, stands up well and he leads it firmly, supported by the excellent chorus. Davis himself makes of this as good a case as possible for a reconciliatory conclusion to a whole symphonic experience, one whose variety as well as quasi-symphonic cohesion he understands better than any other conductor.'
John Warrack, Gramophone [10/1996]
Works on This Recording
Roméo et Juliette, Op. 17 by Hector Berlioz
Alastair Miles (Baritone),
Olga Borodina (Mezzo Soprano),
Thomas Moser (Tenor)
Sir Colin Davis
Bavarian Radio Chorus,
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1839; France
Date of Recording: 1993
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