Berlioz: The Trojans / Beecham, Giraudeau, Ferrer, Cambon, Corke

Release Date: 10/12/2010
Catalog Number: SOMM-BEECHAM 26-8
Composer: Hector Berlioz
Number of Discs: 3

Physical Format:

In Stock
Notes and Editorial Reviews

BERLIOZ Les Troyens Thomas Beecham, cond; Jean Giraudeau ( Aeneas ); Marissa Ferrer ( Cassandra/Dido ); Charles Cambon ( Corebus/Narbal ); Yvonne Corke ( Anna ); Royal PO; BBC Th Ch SOMM BEECHAM 26-8, mono (3 CDs: 229:04) Live: London 6/1947, 7/1947

Berlioz, an enthusiast for Virgil’s Aeneid , began work on what he considered his magnum opus in 1856 and, by his testimony, “After three years and a half of corrections, changes, additions, etc., I finished it.” He never did get to hear a complete performance since the small theater that he had to settle for couldn’t or wouldn’t mount the entire five-act opera and produced, instead, a mutilated edition of the final three acts, which became, by default, a self-contained opera called The Trojans at Carthage . The complete five-act work was not performed until 1890 (by which time Berlioz had been dead for two decades) when Felix Mottl led a performance in Karlsruhe, Germany. There were sporadic revivals throughout the first half of the 20th century, but in a corrupt edition published by Choudons. That is the edition that was available when Sir Thomas Beecham conducted a 1947 concert performance that was broadcast by the BBC. I A-B’d the Beecham with the later, stereo recordings of Colin Davis (both) and Charles Dutoit, but this is not going to turn into a Les Troyens discography because I concluded that either of the Davises or the Dutoit should fill the average listener’s Les Troyens needs.

The first two acts deal with the Greek capture of Troy by means of the Trojan Horse and the fate of the leading Trojans. I will be referring to the characters by their traditional names, rather than their French versions (i.e., “Aeneas,” rather than “Énée”). The next three acts take place in Carthage and involve the love affair between Aeneas, the Trojan leader, and Dido, the Queen of Carthage, and its tragic conclusion. It is not surprising that this performance is incomplete; what is surprising is how few cuts Beecham actually makes and how odd a few of them are, like shortening Hylas’s only aria and doing the same to Aeneas’s big moment (“Inutiles regrets!”) while performing the act IV ballet music down to the last repeat. Because of earlier Paris revivals, Beecham was able to call upon some experienced singers in the leading roles. Marissa Ferrer had sung Dido under Philippe Gaubert in 1929 and Cassandra under Gaubert in 1939. Charles Cambon had sung Corebus in the 1929 revival. Jean Giraudeau had previously performed as Aeneas and went on to record the role when Hermann Scherchen made the first recording of The Trojans at Carthage (i.e., acts III–V of Les Troyens ). Although these singers have been surpassed by later soloists, they do not let the side down and Beecham is Beecham, making his flamboyant way through the music. He is one element in this performance that has not been surpassed on some of the subsequent excellent recordings. Giraudeau, in a role whose recorded protagonists include Richard Cassilly, Mario Del Monaco, Ben Heppner, Gary Lakes, and Jon Vickers, is too light, though what he does, he does well. Why Beecham shortens his one big aria, I can’t imagine. I would estimate that Beecham cuts no more than 15 minutes of music. For some reason, Choudons moved the “Royal Hunt and Storm” back one act so that it opens act V, and that’s where it appears here. This recording is taken from two BBC studio performances and was preserved on admittedly imperfect 78-rpm acetates, but really, the sound is not an important factor here.

Those for whom it might be a factor have three extremely good alternates available. Since they are based on the 1961 complete edition, they are uncut. Charles Dutoit’s Decca/London set even restores a passage from act I that had been cut by Berlioz. Regrettably, it is officially unavailable here but can be found on some Internet sites. That leaves two impressive Colin Davis efforts, his pioneering complete one on Philips and a later, live one issued by the London Symphony Orchestra on its own label. After listening to both Davis recordings and the Dutoit, I would hate to have to choose between them (I own the Philips Davis and the Dutoit—also the less competitive, heavily cut Prêtre from Rome) and you could not go wrong with any of the three. Beecham was supposed to conduct a Carnegie Hall performance of the opera in 1961 but had to cancel because of illness. Fortunately, Robert Lawrence, one of the few conductors who would have known the opera, was available as an emergency substitute. Unfortunately I have not heard it nor the 1960 Kubelík La Scala excerpts.

FANFARE: James Miller
Works on This Recording
1. Les troyens by Hector Berlioz
Performer: Jean Giraudeau (Tenor), Charles Cambon (Baritone), Marisa Ferrer (Soprano), Yvonne Corke (Alto)
Period: Romantic
Written: 1856-1858 ; France
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