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Notes and Editorial Reviews
The late Martin Cooper, an authority on French music in the nineteenth century, once compared Saint-Saens's opera with Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex, works "where the perennial and the archaic, the 'modern' and the trivial are amalgamated into a convincing unity". It's that unity which Sir Colin Davis so assuredly achieves in his superb conducting here. He brought the work into the Royal Opera repertory in 1981 during his tenure at Covent Garden and, as there, he shows his sympathy with every aspect of the score, his direction showing his love for the piece in its lucidity and classical control. He gives Samson's part the heroic power and sense of doom the composer predicates, draws all the sensuality from Delilah's music, encompasses
the delicacies of the Dance of the Priestesses and gives the Bachanale the vigour it needs to hide its comparative banality. He quite avoids the mistake of Pretre on the 1962 EMI set or Barenboim in the 1978 DG version (currently nla)—over-egging the pudding; Davis's speeds sound the natural and inevitable ones and he doesn't indulge them.
His ideas are executed with care, skill and dedication by his own Bavarian Radio chorus and orchestra, who have obviously worked hard to achieve such compelling results. The chorus, so important in this work, combines refinement with vigour. Its contribution nicely contrasts the dedication and misery of the Hebrews with the earthy paganism and hubris of the Philistines. The orchestra, helped by luminous and forward recording, reveals all the beauty and subtlety of the composer's well-judged scoring.
With a British conductor, German choral and orchestral forces, and soloists drawn from other parts of the Continent, this is very much a panEuropean effort. The set has obviously been made with Carreras and Baltsa enthusiasts very much in mind—they are singing in the opera at Covent Garden next month. As you would expect Carreras enters into all the ecstasy and agony of Samson's dealings with his own followers and with the enemy. He encompasses with particular success Samson's feelings of guilt before surrendering to Delilah's wiles and his remorse in "Vois ma misere" in which his plangent accents and moving diction are eloquently heard. That passage lies in what is now the most comfortable section of his voice, that is up to G. Above that the tone becomes too vibrant and strained. For that reason, the first scene, where Samson tries to instil his `troups' with courage, the high B flat at the end of "Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix", and the calls on God for renewed power are rather a trial to hear. Vickers, on EMI, has all the requisite power and strength, and he's more obedient to the dynamic marks even though he does indulge in exaggerated expression, which Carreras eschews. But it must be said that Vickers and his Delilah, Rita Gorr, seem vocally like Rolls Royces besides the Fords of Baltsa and Carreras; and are in consequence easier on the ear.
Baltsa's voice simply hasn't the velvety quality provided by Gorr. With that rather large exception, she has about every quality a Delilah needs. Baltsa is alluring or pointed in her phrasing, more so than Gorr, and brings to each of her solos a personal magnetism in terms of tone, resinous and keenly focused, and phrasing that make one forgive the occasionally awkward change of gear or rumpled run. As always with this artist thought has been given to all her phraseology; if every French accent isn't quite as idiomatic as with Gorr, she consoles us with her understanding of Delilah's character, a soul of steel enclosed in a beautiful body. You feel, especially in the long scene with Samson in Act 2, her growing power over him as she entwines him in her tresses, both physically and metaphorically.
Jonathan Summers repeats from Covent Garden his trenchant and properly single-minded portrayal of the High Priest's role (though Blanc on EMI is superior). You may feel that Summers protests almost too much but the fury he displays is written into the part, which he projects in admirable French and in compact, effective tone. None of that can be said of either Estes's lamentable Abimelech or Burchuladze's wobbly, appallingly accented Old Hebrew. I said earlier that this is almost an EEC set, but it wants one vital element—a French singer—these two parts could easily have been filled by one, or better two, of them. Which leads me to say that historic records will show you that a certain French tradition in this work has been lost, perhaps irretrievably— listen to Carney's and Thill's old and famous Columbia disc of "Mon coeur s'ouvre" or the 1946 Fourestier version once available on LP and you'll hear what I mean, but by today's standards this is a worthwhile version, not as opulently sung as EMI's, but better conducted and played. I greatly enjoyed hearing the piece again.
-- Gramophone [1/1991]
Works on This Recording
Samson et Dalila, Op. 47 by Camille Saint-Saëns
Urban Malmberg (Baritone),
Jonathan Summers (Baritone),
Simon Estes (Bass),
Paata Burchuladze (Bass),
Agnes Baltsa (Mezzo Soprano),
José Carreras (Tenor),
Robert Swensen (Tenor),
Donald Smith (Tenor)
Sir Colin Davis
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra,
Bavarian Radio Chorus
Written: 1877; France
Date of Recording: 02/1989
Venue: Munich, Germany
Length: 122 Minutes 53 Secs.
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Recording Distant and without lclarity! November 30, 2012
By James A. Johnston Sr (Lake Orion , MI) See All My Reviews
"Performance is Fine. The recording venue appears to be TOO large. I have had this complaint for many recordings made in Munich! Singers and orchestra are distant. Not a pleasing or exciting listening experience."