The Hector Berlioz Website



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    This page has been created to publish your reviews of recordings of music by Berlioz. A similar page is also available in French.

    We would like to extend our invitation to you to send us your reviews and comments on CDs and/or DVDs of Berlioz’s music in your collection. Your reviews will be published here under your own name, in English or French. 

    We would like to express our thanks to Mr Maurice Laurence, Jr. who suggested the creation of this page and kindly accepted our invitation to write the first review to launch the page.

Copyright notice: The reviews published on this page are the intellectual property of the respective contributors and are subject to UK and International Copyright Laws. Their use/reproduction without the authors’ explicit permission is illegal. 

Reviews in English

Reviews in French

Hector Berlioz Early Vocal Recordings  – A Note
Benvenuto Cellini
L’Enfance du Christ
Hector Berlioz Early Vocal Recordings
La Damnation de Faust, conducted by Piero Coppola
Lélio, ou Le Retour à la vie, conducted by Thomas Dausgaard
Moonlight lifts the soles of moondancers at dusk’s last ball
Symphonie fantastique, conducted by Seiji Ozawa
Symphonie fantastique, conducted by Pierre Monteux 
La Damnation de Faust, conducted by Seiji Ozawa 
La Damnation de Faust, conducted by Markevitch 
La Damnation de Faust, conducted by Munch 
Requiem, conducted by Munch
Symphonie fantastique
Roméo et Juliette, conducted by Charles Munch 
Overture to Béatrice et Bénédict, conducted by Charles Munch 
Symphonie fantastique, conducted by Igor Markevitch
Requiem, conducted by Ozawa
Des Troyens nouveaux au disque et une louable ambition
Une transcription pour orgue de la Symphonie fantastique 
Le Requiem comme vous ne l’avez jamais entendu  
Un Lélio peu fantastique
Quelle plus belle action de grâce rêver ?
La Symphonie fantastique par Anima Eterna : le disque après le concert
A propos d’un dévédé de Benvenuto Cellini
Les premiers Troyens de Covent Garden !

Hector Berlioz Early Vocal Recordings, reviewed by Yoël L. ArbeitmanA Note

By Paul Lewis

    I have just read with pleasure Yoel L. Arbeitman’s meticulous reviews of historic CD reissues, including Symposium 1325: Hector Berlioz - Early Vocal Recordings. The website might like some information about the 1909-1910 abridged Damnation on fourteen 78 rpm sides mentioned in my notes for this CD and unknown to your reviewer. The discs were issued by the French Gramophone Company and are not too hard to find. Artists include Leon Beyle, Berthe Auguez de Montalant, Henri Danges, Marcel Journet and Pierre D’Assy. Issue numbers are 032134/135/140/143/144/155, 4-32080, 033103/104, 33774/775, 034059/060 & 34234.

Paul Lewis
23 August 2008

Benvenuto Cellini

By Yoël L. Arbeitman

Benvenuto Cellini – DVD-R – Salzburg, 2007 (Encore 2989)

    To my knowledge no commercial DVD (or other video format) release of Benvenuto Cellini is available. However there are at least three productions saved by dint of their having been telecast in Europe and circulated: one starring Merritt (in his prime) under Fedoseyev (1987), another featuring Kuebler under Nelson (1995), and the third under Gergiev starring Burkhard Fritz performed at the Salzburg Festival in 2007. Each of these three is a very worthy performance and deserves the attention of Berlioz lovers. But copies need to be obtained from private sources as the commercial issues that I have seen suffer from major technical problems, and I do not advise their purchase.

    Of the three performances, only the Salzburg featuring Fritz, issued by Encore, is under review here. This production falls into the broad category that has come to be known as "Eurotrash". However, to my amazed surprise, I found this performance as a total experience very engaging and indeed somewhat overwhelming. I suggest that every opera experience needs to be judged on its own merits and not dismissed with a term such as "Eurotrash", dismissed unseen and unheard. The production and décor are by Philipp Stölzl. As already adumbrated, from the moment the performance began, I developed a severe fear that I was in for several hours of "Eurotrash", and all expectations were that I would be disgusted. How wrong the initial reaction proved to be as this particular modern production of a favorite opera of mine continued to enchant me and melt my anti-production and certainly anti-Konzept-production opera-viewing and -listening habits away.. Indeed, the production employs its modernity (out of place and time with the work that Master Berlioz wrote and which Liszt rewrote several times) and its quasi-science fiction nature to bring out the essential Benvenuto Cellini, fully enhancing all the virtues of singing and orchestra.

    The DVD-R, as it represents an Austrian TV broadcast, is provided with the clearest (German only of course) subtitles I have seen on any DVD, and that is a major asset.

    One might say that the hallmark of this production is the use of literal fireworks which, one might assume, represent both the freneticness of this opera and the celebrations of Carnival. After the fireworks, the first thing of which one becomes aware is the totally 20th-century nature of the clothing as the papal treasurer Giacomo Balducci appears in his own dwelling where he lives with his daughter Teresa. Let us note that Gergiev and orchestra are attired in white tie. Balducci wears throughout the opera a suit without a tie and prominent horn-rimmed eyeglasses. He also often totes a rifle with which he is threatening either his unwanted son-in-law-to-be or someone else and sometimes another weapon (as occasion "demands"). Soon Cellini arrives at the roof the of the Balduccis’s flat in his own helicopter "Celllini2". Almost sounds like an e-address! Throughout the opera, except in his disguise as a Capuchin friar, Cellini, a somewhat plump tenor, is clad in jeans and a leather jacket, sporting a smallish beard and mustache.

    In this first tableau, lasting with overture 43.30, along with Teresa, Balducci, Cellini, and Fieramosca we receive the gift of two robotic characters that are highly reminiscent of R2D2 and C-3PO of Star Wars fame. Balducci enters with them at the very beginning. The one, obviously the male, is labelled FeFa/661a, while the other, his female companion, is all outfitted in pink colour, with a cone-cap, with no name, and both serve, separately (mostly the latter as befitting her gender) or in tandem, as the personal body servants of Teresa, serving to prepare her ladyship for engagements by shaving her armpits, doing her toes, and brushing her hair.

    Musically let us note here that, as Gardiner does in his 2002 Zurich performance: (1) Balducci’s Act I/scene 1 recitative and aria "Pour écarter les gallants… Ne regardez jamais la lune" is not added; (2) Teresa’s Act I/scene 2 original recitative and romance [no.3a] (coming right after "Les belles fleurs") "Ah! que l’amour une fois dans le coeur a de peine à quitter son asile!... Heureuse celle à qui jamais l’amour /N’a fait sentir les ardeurs de sa flamme" is "restored" in place of the more usual recitative and cavatina [no. 3b] "Entre l’amour et le devoir /Un jeune coeur est bien à plaindre… Quand j’aurai votre âge, /Mes chers parents"; and Celllini’s Act I/scene 7 recitative and romance, the one added just before the first performance for the disgruntled Duprez, "Une heure encore… La gloire était ma seule idole" is deleted. Nelson in his studio recording includes Balducci’s aria in the text, while relegating Teresa’s usual replacement recitative and cavatina and Cellini’s recitative and romance to the appendix. The latter’s absence of course makes the drama more prominent while depriving both the tenor and us of a lovely Berlioz aria. My own feeling is that Teresa’s replacement number [3b] is also musically more effective and appealing (see the notes and the libretto to the Nelson studio set for these items and a discussion of "Paris I" vs. "Paris II"). Drama and an occasional fine aria are not mutually exclusive. In his January 1999 Amsterdam performance (of which I have an aircheck) with the well-past-his-prime Merritt, Gergiev retained both of these effective arias for Teresa and Cellini, while not adding Balducci’s aria. The new scholarly edition, which views all changes made at the behest of singers as impure, seems to be ruling the day until the pendulum swings back. It seems that the current restorers find Paris I to be more through-composed and that Berlioz and his modern "purifiers" find these lovely arias, requested by the creators of the roles, to be disruptive of the essential nature of the tableau and the opera as a whole.

    Returning to the production: Fieramosca is elegantly attired in a plaid suit. He is as elegant as Cellini is something like a Hell’s Angel. This makes sense, of course: if you were the daughter of the Papal Treasurer, who would attract you, the leather/jeans dude or the plaid suit guy? Get real. When Teresa feels threatened by Fieramosca in his plaid suit and needs to call the female neighbors and the female staff for help, of course she uses her cell phone, wouldn’t you? The harpies come to kill Fieramosca who utters his line about having become Orpheus amongst the Bacchantes.

    Let us pause for a breath of air: again, if I must ask myself how it is that, if this all sounds like "Eurotrash", I so respond to the Gesamtausführung (the whole execution of the Cellini-complex of staging, costumes, acting, singing, emotions, Berliozity, etc.), the answer for me can only be that they have got to something of the Cellini-ness, have cared about and for it, respected it, and vivified it with a result that I, a being who bows daily before the genius of Hector Berlioz, respond only in joy to this performance preserved via telecast and taping therefrom. A legitimate release would be welcome.

    The second tableau occurs at the tavern, which is marked with a large sign LIQUEUR. The innkeeper is beautifully played (sung/acted) by Sung-Keun Park, as noted in the cast link. He is a thinnish, Orientalish (or Eurasian) man, whose name and ethnicity I was not sure of until I found the above embedded hyperlink. Ascanio now comes to the rescue of the revellers with their unpayable tab, Ascanio bringing the bag of money of "that wretched Jew" of a papal treasurer, Giacomo Balducci, the money owed for the creation of Perseus. As Perseus is to be, what a sculpted masterpiece this Ascanio is, covered in gold-plated armour, a veritable "Martian" robot, the problem of whose travesti role is thus obviated and whose character and voice transfix us, as every Ascanio should.

    We next come upon Pompeo, the white-suited Pompeo, a truly devilish figure, replete with cigarette, the mark of Satan, dangling from his fingers, as he spins his plot, narrating it to his co-actor, Fieramosca, the ever-dapper, the plot that will be this devil’s own undoing at the hands of our hero. The figures of Ascanio and Pompeo are works of "production" genius here: the acting of Pompeo superb and the voice of Ascanio dominating the cast as a whole – again, as it should always be. The puppet show is well done. I, myself, come more and more to understand why this production allures me.

    Next scene: once the united prayer of Cellini’s two dearest is done, Cellini, with his robe covered in blood from his bloody deed, enters, carrying his cross – this is Lent, and the monks are praying in the background. He is tended by his wife-to-be, and now the Pope-mobile appears, driven by a young blonde chick (or is it a gay guy?).

    This groovy and handsome, youngish Pope (a good Renaissance Medici?) puts the communion wafers into the mouths of three, the last of whom is our Cellini himself, presumably not having made confession. Multiple times Pope and Sculptor "high-five" one another and end up in a long-enduring embrace. Let us remember that creation, the creation of Perseus, is their joint doing. Two blonde gay dudes, papal lackeys attend their lord even as FeFa661a and his companion attended Teresa earlier. But wait: Pope Clément seems to become aware that Cellini has not created that which was his to create – the pope and the sculptor grapple over a long-handled axe.

    Act II: Ascanio becomes "schizophrenic". Somehow the body and the head of the main disciple of our Cellini are separate entities. I have failed to notice the cause. Must all things have an aetiology? While there is Ascanio’s body up to the neck being there in one place, there is the severed head of Ascanio alone speaking-through-song elsewhere, although, one must grant, not too far away in the way that physical space is judged. Now the head does the great pope-mimetic aria and steals the show. Our mezzo is wonderful and his non-female appearance and his alien-being-ness only help our total suspension of disbelief. Credo, I do indeed believe in two Ascanios for whatever reason. Credo quia absurdum est. Round about statues and persons seem to meld.

    In the following tableau Cellini at last gets his one recitative and aria (no wonder Duprez’s wife bore a son, distracting our distraught tenor); whereupon the chorus of disciples, which has sung the glories of sculptors in the tavern, now takes up the happiness of sailors. Cellini seeks the care-free life of a sailor and the chorus joins in.

    Ascanio’s body is now unified again. When the disciples revolt against the slave-driving Cellini, who is set to lose his head by immediate papal hanging, Teresa – a real trooper – calms the revolt. However, Cellini must have it out now with Fieramosca, a duel that has been brewing since the beginning of the opera.

    All is ending well except by now, 2:15 and 2:19 into the DVD-R, the sound has sped up something awful and like a bad tape, is jolting to hear and, come to think of it, the at-times glorious sound and colour have gradually degraded, catching me unawares as I was so engaged in the opera. I cannot even find the names of those who played "the minor characters", not given at the beginning, because now the picture gradually has blurred. The opera proper ends at 2:36, and I do not wait around for the closing of the DVD, unwatchable and unlistenable, as it has become. All along the sound, while more than adequate, is not acceptable for a 2007 Austrian telecast and ditto the picture. It has been a trip. I have discovered many things about this work and some things about the nature of the whole that had previously escaped me.

    I shall seek a better copy from a private party and add Encore to The House of Opera as places best avoided even for items from 2007. No tracks, something that makes re-viewing a part here and there impossible, deteriorating picture, unbearable sound at moments, and a wonderful "Eurotrash" production of a favourite opera.

    Sincere thanks to Larry Friedman for meticulous proofing and many suggestions. All remaining faults are my own.

Yoël L. Arbeitman

Read also two reviews of the10 August 2007 performance of Benvenuto Cellini in Salzburg by Pierre-René Serna and Christian Wasselin, both in French.

L’Enfance du Christ

By Michael Miller

London Symphony Orchestra
Tenebrae Choir (director: Nigel Short)
conductor: Sir Colin Davis
Yann Beuron - The Narrator/Centurion
Karen Cargill - Marie
William Dazeley - Joseph
Matthew Rose - Herod
Peter Rose - Father/Polydorus

James Mallinson: producer
Jonathan Stokes and Neil Hutchinson for Classic Sound Ltd: sound engineers
Recorded December 2006, Barbican, London

Two SACD/CD compatible discs, download available from LSO Live site via iTunes or eMusic

    Sir Colin has a long history with L’Enfance du Christ. He made his first recording of it in 1960 at the age of 34. It was well-received in its time and is still respected today, but the current performance, part of the London Symphony Orchestra’s brilliantly successful series of live concert recordings made in the renovated and sonically improved Barbican Hall, is an absolute triumph.

    In the moody opening night scene on the streets of Jerusalem, Berlioz’ sense of drama and atmosphere are at their keenest, and only as the entire work unfolds do we realise that it consists of three loosely connected parts, not written with the stage in mind. His love and understanding of the ancient world which reached its richest expression in Les Troyens, strengthens his characterisation of the weary Roman soldiers and the half-crazed client king, whom they so despise. In the second part this fills out his portrayal of the people of Saïs and their arrogance as old Roman citizens. The early performances of L’Enfance du Christ were unusual popular successes for Berlioz, and, although it is far from being his most performed work, its folk-like simplicity, free as it is from any sentimentality or mawkishness, has a strong appeal, as do the more complex passages, which evoke the Herod’s obsessions, the soothsayers exotic fanaticism, or the imagined character of ancient music.

    In fact L’Enfance du Christ began as something of a joke. Berlioz, bored at party one evening in 1850, dashed off a few staves in the album of his friend Duc, a rustic organ piece with an archaic flavour. This eventually became the touching chorus of shepherds bidding farewell to the infant Jesus, as his family take flight into Egypt. Berlioz included it, amplified by two other movements, in his next concert, passing it off as the lost work of “Ducré,” a forgotten seventeenth century master of the Sainte Chapelle, then undergoing its famous restoration. He characterised the style as being that “of the old illuminated missals.” After that he shelved the music and forgot about it until 1854, when he added first the third part of the sacred trilogy, The Arrival at Saïs, and finally the first part, The Dream of Herod.

    Sir Colin’s ear for Berlioz’s balances and sonorities is, as always, impeccable. The LSO is totally responsive, and the quality of their playing is on the highest level throughout, whether they are playing complex orchestral sonorities as in the eerie scene in which the soothsayers make their prophecy or as soloists in the delicate trio for two flutes and harp. The soloists are without exception superb. Yann Beuron, as the only native French singer in the group, is well employed as the narrator, a role to which he adds particular tenderness and conviction. Matthew Rose is utterly compelling as the tortured, self-pitying Herod; and mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill and baritone William Dazeley encompass both the tenderness and the desperation in their parts. Peter Rose projects all the warmth and generosity of the Ishmaelite householder. One cannot imagine a more committed or attractively voiced group of soloists for this work, but the singing of the Tenebrae Choir is almost miraculous. Relatively small for this repertoire, with 14 female sopranos, 9 mixed altos, 8 tenors, and 9 basses, the choir encompasses the vast range of passage work, colour, and nuance demanded by Berlioz and Sir Colin with astonishing precision and delicate expression. They sing with little vibrato, which makes their parts all the more exposed, a factor which makes their performance of the long, drawn-out lines of the mystical choir at the conclusion a technical marvel. It is none the less deeply moving for that. This extraordinary choir makes an equally impressive contribution to Sir Colin’s great Messiah, which I shall discuss elsewhere in the near future.

    This splendid recording does full justice to the mood and phrasing, as well as the harmonic and orchestral detail of this unusual work. I cannot recommend it more highly, but, writing in New England, I must add that Charles Munch’s performances with the Boston Symphony Orchestra were always especially prized, and his 1956 commercial recording and a DVD of a 1966 television broadcast are currently available, although ArkivMusic seems to be the only dependable source for the CD through their own reissue.

Michael Miller

Note: Michael Miller is the publisher and editor of The Berkshire Review for the Arts, where his review originally appeared on 27 December 2007. We are pleased to reproduce the review here at Mr Miller’s request.

Hector Berlioz Early Vocal Recordings  

 By Yoël L. Arbeitman

SYMPOSIUM 1325 (TT 72’13")

    I have just become acquainted with this 2003 (bicentennial) issue. It bears comparison with an earlier issue entitled BERLIOZ HISTORIQUE (Coffret publié par The Classical Collector en 1991, 150062), known to all collectors and lovers of this composer who was so neglected in recordings by the great period of French singing. I am beholden to Gene Halaburt for introducing me to BERLIOZ HISTORIQUE a number of years ago.

    The self-evident abbreviations HB~EVR and BH will henceforth be used. Let it be noted here alone that – strangely – while the booklet and the tray card both bear the title HECTOR BERLIOZ~ EARLY VOCAL RECORDINGS, the CD itself has printed on it HECTOR BERLIOZ FIRST RECORDINGS. One must assume that a working title has not been corrected.

    Some comparisons are in order: as is ineluctable, both compilations devote a major proportion of their selections to (1) the only vocal work of Berlioz that has always been widely recorded, both complete (sensu lato) and in arias. Twelve of the nineteen tracks of BH and nine of the eighteen tracks of HB~EVR are devoted to La Damnation de Faust.

    BH has additionally one selection from (2) L’Enfance du Christ and six selections from (3) Les Troyens.

    HB~EVR offers two other selections from L’Enfance, which complement the one on BH, but repeats three of the six selections from Troyens, while adding no new ones.

    Additionally HB~EVR offers a single (4) Nuits d’été selection, a single (5) Benvenuto Cellini selection, a single (6) Roméo et Juliette selection, and finally a single (7) Béatrice et Bénédict selection.

    Thus, quite simply, HB~EVR touches all seven, major, non-liturgical Berlioz vocal works, although for two of these works it has recourse to German language recordings, while for a third work, Damnation, three of its nine selections are Italian language recordings. Details are below. BH, on the other hand, includes only historical French language recordings and offers a wider selection from both Troyens and Damnation.

    Let us examine these cases individually, starting with (1) Damnation. BH consists of 2 CDs and includes the abridged 1930 unparalleled Coppola performance. I am ignoring that part of BH for present purposes and am only considering the excerpts. The Coppola Damnation has also been issued on Pearl and in private transfers. The TT of the excerpts on BH is 68’11".

    We first examine (a) the devil’s arias: BH offers "Chanson de la puce" once: Joachim Cerdan (1919), while HB~EVR offers it with Pol Plançon (1907).

    BH gives us "Voici des roses" twice: Pol Plançon (1907) and Étienne Billot (1930). HB~EVR offers this aria once: Maurice Renaud (1908).

    BH offers us "Devant la maison" twice: Maurice Renaud (1902, piano) and Jean Claverie (1930), while HB~EVR offers it with Emilio de Gogorza (1913).

    On the devil’s music here it may be useful to note that Plançon’s "Chanson de la puce", "Voici des roses" together with both a (1904, piano) and a (1906, orchestra) "Devant la maison" appear on Romophone 82001-2, a CD set devoted to this singer (see also at the end of the present section).

    Of other sine qua non appearances of Berlioz’s devil in historical performances one cannot fail to note the absence in both sets of Vanni-Marcoux’s 1930 recordings of "Chanson de la puce" and "Devant la maison".

    Another Symposium CD, 1197, presents Giuseppe De Luca’s "Canzone della pulce", "Su queste rose", and "E che fai tu qui" ["Serenata"] (= "Devant la maison"), all three (early, 1905, piano), in Italian.

    Sundry other Symposium CDs have Damnation arias sung by either French or Italian artists and at least some items on the CD under review have appeared previously on some of those CDs.

    Various Pearl, Nimbus, Preiser, and Marston CDs, devoted to a particular singer, likewise have historical Damnation arias. Let me just cite a single French and few Italian devils of whom I have recordings in private transfers (although it is highly likely that most of these have appeared on various CDs): Marcel Journet’s "Devant la maison" (there are of course Journet recordings of other of the devil’s arias) and (both from 1906) Mattia Battistini’s "Su queste rose" for Italian HMV, with orchestra/Carlo Sabajno Nov.1906/Milan/FG G&T888c/052147 and Titta Ruffo’s "E che fai tu qui" for Victor, with orchestra/Carlo Sabajno Nov.1906/Milan/FG G&T888c/052147. From 1925 the great baritone Riccardo Stracciari’s three items from La Dannazione for Italian Columbia. D 12467 contains the "Serenata" and the "Canzone della pulce" and one side of D 12469 has "Su queste rose".

    Pearl (GEMM CD 9258), one of their discs devoted to Charles Panzéra, and EMI THE RECORD OF SINGING, Vol 3, CD8, each offers an aria by Panzéra under Coppola, namely "Voici des roses" and "Esprits des flammes!" which they date resp. 18/2/1931 and c. 1932. However both the matrix numbers given and the HMV catalogue numbers would seem to prove them to be the same items as in the "complete" Coppola Damnation (1930).

    Proceeding to (b) Marguerite’s music: BH gives us only "D’amour l’ardente flamme" with Germaine Martinelli (1930), while HB~EVR repeats this item and also gives the same singer’s (1930) "Roi de Thulé", and additionally the Faust/Marguerite duo "Ange adoré" in Italian as performed by Giorgina Caprile and Giuseppe Krismer (1909). However "odd" the duo may sound in Italian (as it does here) one would be very pleased with any tenor singing this item whose tessitura fit so well as does Krismer’s.

    Not to be forgotten ever is that the great Ninon Vallin, at the very tail end of her career (she was born in 1886), recorded live three excerpts from Damnation. They appeared on a French LP, Pléiade P 3082: "La Damnation de Faust: excerpts with Ninon Vallin and Guy Fourché, Orchestre des Concerts Pasdeloup conducted by Pierre Cruchon, March 1, 1955". These are "D’amour l’ardente flamme", the complete Scène 11 (including "Roi de Thulé) and the duo (Scène 13) with the not very suitable tenor. Even though there are vocal imperfections, the interpretative skills make one care deeply for both the character and the singer. And although 1955 is beyond the time under consideration here, Vallin is not of the generation of Crespin, Gorr or Callas, but rather of the generation and world of Thill.

    Thus there is certainly a need for a third historical Berlioz CD, although most of it, if not all, will be from Damnation. Included in such a CD must be "Perduta è la mia pace" ("D’amour l’ardente flamme") with Elisa Petri, recorded in 1905 for Italian Fonotipia # 39384. "This has never appeared on LP or CD and has been OOP for almost one hundred years. Furthermore, heard in its context, the best Italian school of the late 19th. century, it is a superbly sung version of the aria. I myself restored the disc" writes a friend who has provided me with a laudable copy of this excellently recorded aria.

    Coming finally to (c) the tenor’s music (neither compilation represents Brander at all): BH is very generous in this matter, offering – in the manner e.g. of Malibran’s historical La Juive (CDRG 144) or historical Sigurd (CDRG 151) – numerous examples of a single aria by different significant singers. While HB~EVR gives a recording by Georges Thill of "Nature immense" from 9/V/1927 (LX 60), BH offers Thill in a Feb. 1925 (L 146) recording of the aria and also performances by Albert Vaguet (1906), Paul Franz (1919), Fernand Ansseau (Feb., 1923), and René Maison (1928). According to Dave Mason’s discographical article on Thill in The Record Collector, vol. 52 nr2, June 2007, the acoustic Thill recording (with three other acoustic Columbias) dates from 1925 (month not sure; Jan/Feb and a little later), (L 146, D13004), with orchestra probably conducted by Gabriel Parès. The electric Thill recording is dated 9 May 1927, with orchestra conducted by Maurice Frigera (WLX60-1,2).

    Additionally, of Faust’s music, BH provides "Merci, doux crépuscule" with Henri Saint-Cricq (1930), while HB~EVR offers this aria with Giovanni Malipiero (1942) in Italian as well as the afore-mentioned (b above) duo in Italian and a non-aria, tenor fragment from the scene 14 Trio with Chorus, here named with its French words "Adieu, donc belle nuit", sung by Giovanni Zenatello (1903, piano) in Italian. This fragment had already been given on Symposium 1073 (issued 1989), where it was labeled with its Italian words "Addio, notte soave". Of all Berlioz items this is the most dispensable, to understate the case. Of the three Damnation items in Italian, Malipiero’s aria must be singled out for its loveliness which transcends any language barrier. It is a shame that Malipiero’s rendition of Faust’s other aria "Natura immensa", of which I have a private transfer from a Tima Club LP, was not included. While we are at it, the Italian name of the aria given on HB~EVR in French is "A te grazie, o crepusculo". It should be basic procedure for all foreign ("wrong") language arias to be given both their proper titles and their titles in the language being sung (as e.g. the Walhall [WLCD 0137] booklet to the German Cellini does).

    Thus, in Damnation only one single item (Martinelli’s "D’amour l’ardente flamme") occurs in both collections, and this is to the collector’s benefit. Of the two recordings of Thill’s "Nature immense", that on HB~EVR coincides with the EMI where, however, it is inaccurately dated 10.V. 1927 (WLX 60. 12510), while that on BH is an earlier recording, as noted above.

    EMI’s Thill set (EMI CZS 7 62103-2; 1990) has been out of print since soon after its issue and the various Malibran Thill issues are disgraceful beyond words. I am beholden to Roland Kayser for a copy of this set and for information.

    Finally, it cannot go unmentioned that the limited edition set of 2CDs, LE CHANT FRANÇAIS RETROUVÉ, DE LULLY À DEBUSSY, (Edition Bibliothèque Nationale de France, avec le concours de la Fondation France Télécom. Archives Sonores de la Phonothèque Nationale APN87 - 7/8 1987) offers the above-noted (on Romophone) Plançon (1906) "Devant la maison" together with a different Ansseau (1919) recording of "Nature immense" and an exquisite reading of "D’amour l’ardente flamme" (1929) by Yvonne Gall (cf. below on a Troyens item). I am beholden to Patrick André for this information and a copy of this set.

    (2) L’Enfance: BH offers conductor François Ruhlmann’s first (1930) recording of "Le repos de la Sainte Famille", sung by Henri Saint-Cricq, the same pair as BH presents in "Merci, doux crépuscule", noted above, while HB~EVR offers the same conductor’s (1933) second recording of this item, however with Jean Planel, one of the glories of Berlioz singing on record. Additionally HB~EVR gives us "Toujours ce rêve", Herod’s aria, sung (1930) by Louis Morturier, the Brander on the Coppola abridged (1930) Damnation.

    Here, with L’Enfance, HB~EVR wins hands down although the Planel is available on EMI THE RECORD OF SINGING, Vol 3, CD8.

    (3) Les Troyens: as previously noted, BH and HB~EVR share three items: Georgette Frozier-Marrot’s (1929) recordings of Didon’s "entrance" ("Chers tyriens") and "farewell" ("Adieu, fière cité") arias and Thill’s (1934) "Inutiles regrets" (the later again part of the EMI Thill set and quite simply the greatest recording of any French opera excerpt on record). The interpretation that comes off the three CDs, EMI, BH, and HB~EVR, is not uniform. That on BH (at c.8’30" real time) is patently shorter than that on HB~EVR (at c.8‘36") and both differ from that on EMI (at c.8’34"). I lack sufficiently advanced technical machinery to speculate further except to note that this is especially obvious in certain sections of this excerpt. It is interesting to note that both BH and HB~EVR devote tracks 15, 16, and 17 to Thill’s excerpt surrounded by the two arias of Frozier-Marrot. In the section "À toi, mon âme" of the Thill excerpt HB~EVR displays marked surface noise (which is not problematic at all to my ears). The transfers of Frozier-Marrot’s Didon on HB~EVR have sufficiently more "presence" as to represent what her voice and interpretative skills were like and thereby to offer the listener an immediate awareness of greatness, something that the BH transfers have long done in a lesser degree for me. This quite simply is due to leaving more surface noise and therewith more voice and orchestra. It is of interest to note that 19 years later she is Amneris to Luccioni’s Radamès in a (1948) Aïda "Judgment Scene" (Malibran CDRG 147).

    However BH additionally offers us Marie Delna’s (1903, piano) recording of Didon’s "entrance" aria and Félia Litvinne’s (1904, piano) recording of Didon’s "farewell" aria (also issued on the LE CHANT FRANÇAIS RETROUVÉ CD set, on which see above at the end of the section 1).

    BH begins its selections from Les Troyens à Carthage with the "Ouverture" to this "Part II" as conducted (1930) by Pierre Monteux, an item available on various issues of Monteux 1930 orchestral Berlioz (for example Music and Arts or Pearl). All-in-all BH has made a worthy assemblage of what little Troyens historical material exists.

    Returning to Thill’s Énée, this excerpt which is always mislabeled as "Récitatif mesuré et air" and which Paul Lewis (in his notes to HB~EVR) calls "this heavily cut excerpt", is actually composed of (1) number 41 (the recitative and bipartite aria [a "Ah! quand viendra"], [b "En un dernier naufrage"]), (2) No 42 Scène amongst Énée, choeur des ombres, and the individual spectres of Priam (bass), Chorèbe (baritone), Hector (bass), and Cassandre (mezzo) with all the individual spectres missing. In this No 42 indeed the words of Énée are collapsed to:

"Encore ces voix!,
Spectres inexorables!
Je suis barbare, ingrat; vous l’ordonnez, grands dieux!
Et j’immole Didon, en détournant les yeux!"

    An examination of the libretto will show what is missing between "ces voix" and "spectres inexorables", both in the words of Énée and of the four other dramatis personae, les spectres. One is hard pressed in this encounter between Énée and the ombres and spectres not to be put in mind of Berlioz’s reworking of Gluck’s French Alceste by substituting "ombres, larves" for "Divinités du Styx" on which see Joël-Marie Fauquet "Excerpts from Gluck’s Alceste".

    This collapsed No 42 is followed by (3) No 43, the complete Scène et choeur and by (4) the concluding duo of the Choeur des Troyens and Énée, the repetition "Italie, Italie" from No 44. This "heavily cut excerpt" is a heavenly created scene for Thill to which no other recorded Énée (studio or live) approaches.

    (4) Les Nuits d’été: HB~EVR includes the single song "L’Absence", recorded by Edmond Clément ("1916"). This is also available on Romophone 82016-2 (a CD set devoted to the Pathé recordings of Clément and the complete recordings of Léon David) where however it is correctly dated (1919).

    Tantalisingly, the notes to this Romophone set inform us that Clément sang Hylas while David sang Iopas at the 1892 Opéra Comique premiere of Troyens. Marie Delna was the Didon. One can dream even when one cannot hear.

    (5) Benvenuto Cellini: HB~EVR gives us "A tous péchés plein indulgence" performed (1911) by Richard Mayr in German, a most worthy addition to the Berlioz discography. Mayr created Mahler’s Pater Profundus in 1910 and one only wishes that he had recorded that as well.

    (6) Roméo et Juliette: HB~EVR gives us the stunning "Premiers transports" (1909) of Berthe Auguez de Montalant and one can only express gratitude.

    (7) Béatrice et Bénédict: HB~EVR concludes with the duo nocturne of Ursule and Héro, "Nuit paisible et sereine!", sung (1907, piano) in German by Ella Tordek and Luise Höfer. The notes inform us that these two ladies sang this duo often under Felix Mottl and that this recording is a Mottl souvenir in the same sense as the Mayr papal aria is a souvenir of the 1911 Vienna premiere of Cellini. Alas, the sonics of this duo are poor, the duo is abridged to 2’56" [!], and never was the presence of an orchestra so missed as here. Thus we have a historical rarity but not an aesthetically satisfying one at all. Nevertheless its presence is to be appreciated.

    As far as concerns documentation and notes, a few words will suffice.

    HB~EVR gives only matrix numbers whereas BH gives both matrix numbers and catalogue numbers. In the matter of historical recordings, the maximum sum of such data is required. Also BH often specifies the conductors while HB~EVR does not ever provide this information. Similarly, BH always gives the act, scene, part, number (whatever applies) for each aria while HB~EVR never provides such useful information. BH always gives the timing for each item while HB~EVR avoids this information.

    The Symposium notes by Paul Lewis inform us that four of the 1901 Paris wax cylinders include three arias from Damnation (one each of Faust’s, Méphistophélès’s, and Brander’s ["Certain rat"]) and one aria from Troyens, Chorèbe’s "Reviens à toi".

    Paul Lewis’s notes also state that "an abridged Damnation on fourteen 78 rpm sides was produced in 1909-1910". This comes as news to me and a learned friend has written me:

   "I never heard of that earlier abridgement of La Damnation. Both Steiner and Le Grandi Voci don’t make any mention of it and neither does the Berlioz website. In itself, this doesn’t mean that such a recording doesn’t exist but I suspect that the rumour started with the acoustic set of Gounod’s Faust, issued by Pathé Frères in 1910 or thereabouts".

    I am most grateful to Rudi van den Bulck, Eduardo Gabarra, and Larry Friedman for responses to requests for information and for suggestions.

    In spite of these inadequacies in the documentation, HB~EVR is a CD that gives the lover of true French (and a little German/Italian) Berlioz much pleasure and one can only be grateful for it.

Yoël L. Arbeitman

La Damnation de Faust

By Elmar de Pauw

La Damnation de Faust
Orchestre Pasdeloup
Chœurs St. Gervais
José de Trévi, Faust; Charles Panzéra, Méphistophélès; Mireille Berthon, Marguerite; Louis Morturier, Brander
conductor: Piero Coppola
Recording 1930
Pearl GEMM CD 9080

    As far as I know this is the earliest attempt to record La Damnation de Faust. This version is severely cut, but still contains nearly 80 minutes of a very fine reading. Sonics are of course limited and noise levels are high (standard for Pearl). Still, I like this recording very much. The reasons are the excellent quality of the cast, the swift pacing of Coppola and above all Charles Panzéra. I have listened to many recordings of La Damnation and I find Panzéra’s Méphisto the most satisfying. His palette of expression is very broad, diction is perfect and his timings are gripping. Listen to Devant La Maison and you’ll appreciate his diabolical rolling r’s. In Voici des roses, he is extremely lyrical. He is Méphisto. José de Trévi is also an outstanding Faust: very lyrical and sounding very French (a bit nasal, which I like). Mireille Berthon is a light Marguerite, with a straightforward but good performance comparable to Suzanne Danco’s. Brander is also good, but not remarkable. Conducting of Coppola is characterised by a very swift pace. In this he follows perfectly the tendency of pre-war performances to adopt generally faster tempi than is usual nowadays. The results are especially convincing in fast movements: the Marche Hongroise, which is very energetic and La course a l’abîme, which is electrifying. His style resembles Munch’s approach, but without his characteristic ralentandi. In comparison, modern versions sound a bit slow and strict. Lyrical passages are just a tad faster than usual. I would recommend this CD for all lovers of La Damnation de Faust next to the brilliant Markevitch version.

Elmar de Pauw

Berlioz: Lélio, ou Le Retour à la vie

By Christopher Follett

Berlioz: Lélio, ou Le Retour à la vie, Opus 14bis; Le Carnaval romain, Opus 9; Hélène, Opus 2 No 2
Jean-Philippe Lafont: speaker/baritone
Sune Hjerrild, Gert Henning-Jensen, tenors
Danish National Choir/DR
Danish National Symphony Orchestra/DR
Conductor: Thomas Dausgaard

CHANDOS CHAN 10416    69´ 37"

Recorded in Danish Radio Concert Hall, Copenhagen 30 July-6 August 2004, released summer 2007

    Berlioz’s Lélio, sequel to the Symphonie fantastique, relating the composer’s ‘return to life’ after turbulent traumas in his emotional life in the early 1830s, was all the rage when first performed. Today, with its whimsical, histrionic, romantic rhetoric, the ‘lyrical monodrama’, a mix of music and theatre, a platform for the artist to relate his most pressing thoughts and autobiographic angst, has very much the quality of a period piece, but it does contain music which is quintessentially Berlioz; it is also a remarkable document of the high tide of French romanticism. Basically six (recycled) numbers for choir, vocalists and orchestra, interlinked by a dramatic artist-narrator monologue, Lélio reflects all Berlioz’s passionate preoccupations: Goethe, Shakespeare, Byron, love, hatred of philistinism in artistic matters, his insistence on professional orchestral performance, his total belief in the art of music, his renewal as an artist. Some of the music, notably the Chant de Bonheur, La Harpe Eolienne and the Fantasy on Shakespeare’s The Tempest reaches true heights in a piece in which the idée fixe of the Symphonie fantastique reappears at the beginning and end. The Danish National Symphony Orchestra – the Danish State Radio Orchestra – Denmark’s top ensemble – normally more at home in Germanic repertory – plays this latest complete Lélio, the first in a long time, with admirable intensity and there is some spirited singing by the two Royal Danish Opera tenors in tricky roles. French baritone Jean-Philippe Lafont recites the narrator role in a rather straightforward manner, his Toulouse accent grating a bit compared to the splendid whispered anger of Jean Topart in Jean Martinon’s epic 1973 recording or Jean-Louis Barrault’s classic 1967 performance under Pierre Boulez. The version for chorus and orchestra of Hélène, the second of the Neuf mélodies irlandaises, to texts by Thomas Moore – premiered along with the Le Carnaval romain overture at the same concert in 1844 – is a rarity on record, a pearl sung with utter conviction by the most excellent Danish National Choir.

Christopher Follett

See also on this site The Danish composer Asger Hamerik and Berlioz, by Christopher Follett

Moonlight lifts the soles of moondancers at dusk’s last ball

By David Chirko

Best of Berlioz
Label Naxos (USA), 556678

Recorded between 1988 and 1995

1. Overture Le Carnaval romain, Op. 9
San Diego Symphony Orchestra
conductor: Yoav Talmi

2. Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14: 2nd movement, Scene at the Ball
Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra Bratislava
conductor: Pinchas Steinberg

3. Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14: 4th movement, March to the Scaffold
Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra Bratislava
conductor: Pinchas Steinberg

4. Harold en Italie, Op. 16: 3rd movement
San Diego Symphony Orchestra
Rivka Golani (Viola)
conductor: Yoav Talmi

5. Les Troyens: Royal hunt and storm
San Diego Master Chorale
conductor: Yoav Talmi

6. Rêverie et Caprice for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 8
San Diego Symphony Orchestra
Igor Gruppman (Violin)
conductor: Yoav Talmi

7. Roméo et Juliette, Op. 17: Queen Mab Scherzo
San Diego Symphony Orchestra
conductor: Yoav Talmi

8. Roméo et Juliette, Op. 17: Love scene
San Diego Master Chorale
conductor: Yoav Talmi

9. La damnation de Faust, Op. 24: Rákóczy March
Polish National Philharmonic Orchestra Katowice
conductor: Kenneth Jean

    A former medical student, science graduate and music critic, France’s Louis Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) penned music that was, like Richard Wagner’s – beautiful, explosive, passionate and romantic. He could be described as ‘The French Wagner’ (and Wagner, ‘The German Berlioz’ – the two first met in June 1855, in London, exchanging musical notes – no pun intended). Like Wagner, Berlioz, a flamboyant conductor, expanded the potentiality of a larger orchestra – his blueprint Treatise on Instrumentation and Orchestration is utilised in today’s music conservatories. (The Memoirs by Berlioz and The Wagner Dictionary reflect how maverick both of these composers were in their day.) Berlioz was hailed as the finest melodist since Mozart – using lengthy, non-repetitive/asymmetric melodies, punctuated by bold rhythms and unusual harmonies. However, he didn’t employ counterpoint as extensively as did Wagner (who created endless melody). Nevertheless, the Berlioz sound possessed a prospicience that rivalled Wagner’s Music of the Future. Like Wagner’s four opera cycle, The Ring of the Nibelung, he crafted four voluminous programme symphonies, which are musical narratives based on mental imagery depicting a mood or scene – a genre he helped develop. Here Berlioz conveyed emotions in lieu of mirroring actions, through a delicate elegance, as in the Fantastic Symphony, which epitomised the Romantic epoch. It described the tale of a jilted poet attempting suicide with an opium overdose, but just went into a deep sleep. (Interestingly, a poet later said of Berlioz, "Life, for the Romantic, is a gallant dream not waking..." and Berlioz once remarked that he would actually see the motif of a symphony written out in his dreams.) In the aforementioned work, Berlioz was musically representing his beloved, Irish thespian Henrietta Constance Harriet Smithson (who originally eschewed him), by exploiting the idée fixe (fixed idea), a recurring melody – similar to the leitmotiv (leading motif) of Wagner, who imitated the metamorphosis of themes by Franz Liszt, a champion of the music of both these men.

    The Best of series on budget label Naxos presents lesser known conductors/orchestras. Regarding its musical fidelity and performances offered, I compared "March to the Scaffold" from the Fantastic Symphony on The Best of Berlioz, a DDD edition (1997), with the Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava) conducted by Pinchas Steinberg, to another version of the same work from Head Bangin’ Classix on Cema Special Markets/Capitol/EMI, in, I gather, ADD (1996), by the prestigious Berlin Philharmonic directed by Rudolph Kempe. While the latter possessed a tad more sparkle and fullness with a more accurate reading at about $15, the Naxos was overall an exquisite sounding bargain at just under $8. The Best of Berlioz contains nine tracks. My favourite is a movement entitled "Love Scene," from another Berlioz programme symphony, based/named after Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet play (wherein Harriet had portrayed "Juliet" when Hector first espied her). In this piece fantasy envelops the listener in the dance of life. That is why you should purchase The Best of Berlioz by various performers on Naxos, where moonlight lifts the soles of moondancers at dusk’s last ball.

David Chirko
Sudbury, Ontario

See also on this site the poem Across The Alps and Glaciers of Saint Eynard, by David Chirko

Symphonie fantastique

By Maurice Laurence, Jr. (3)

Hector Berlioz
Symphonie fantastique

Boston Symphony Orchestra
Seiji Ozawa

Recording: 2/1973, Symphony Hall, Boston
Deutsche Grammophon: 431 196-2

    When Seiji Ozawa made this recording, he was still the Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony. One can still remember the original album cover that showed a sensitive and contemplative Ozawa listening to a chromatic light, which emanated from the brass section of the orchestra. In listening to this recording one is struck by the fine quality of the orchestral playing that gives evidence of the description of the music of Hector Berlioz by Camille Saint-Saëns,

…there is no obscurity about his orchestra; it is suffused with light, 
which sparkles as though on the facets of a diamond.

    This recording of the Symphonie fantastique, while not as dramatic as some accounts, is filled with light and color. It is beautiful to listen to the clear and translucent sound of the Boston Symphony as they play music that they obviously love. One can hear the flutes and woodwinds through the strings; not a note is lost in obscurity.

Maurice Laurence, Jr.
Newton, Massachusetts
March 2007

Symphonie fantastique

 By Maurice Laurence, Jr. (2)

Hector Berlioz
Symphonie fantastique

San Francisco Symphony
Pierre Monteux

Recording: 2/17-28, 4/15/1945, War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco
BMG: 09026-61894-2

    The Symphonie fantastique is something more than pure music. It stands somewhere between the symphonies of Ludwig van Beethoven and the tone poems of Richard Strauss. This recording by Pierre Monteux is highly dramatic. From the sad despair which opens the Symphony fantastastique to the closing notes of the Songe d’une nuit Sabbat, Monteux reveals this as the "magnificent and disorderly art" it was written to be. This is truly one of the great historic recordings of this work, and, the sound quality aside, one can listen to this recording and know what Hector Berlioz intended.

Maurice Laurence, Jr.
Newton, Massachusetts
March 2007

La Damnation de Faust

By Maurice Laurence, Jr. (3)

Hector Berlioz
La Damnation de Faust, op. 24

Boston Symphony Orchestra
Seiji Ozawa, Music Director
Stuart Barrows, Faust; Donald McIntyre, Mephistopheles; Edith Mathis Marguerite; Thomas Paul, Brander
Tanglewood Festival Chorus, John Oliver, Chorus Master
Boson Boys’ Choir, Theodore Marier, Chorus Master

Recorded: Boston, Symphony Hall, 10/1973
Deutsche Grammophon 453 019-2

    This is a memorable recording. From the first bars forward the music lifts the spirit with its invocation of spring. Here the emphasis is upon the aural landscape. Faust’s melancholy is secondary to the pulse of life that reverberates throughout this recording. It was made near the time of Seiji Ozawa’s inaugural concert as Music Director of the Boston Symphony, and the sense of occasion is present in this recording.

    One especially salient aspect of this recording is the quality of the choral singing. The Tanglewood Festival Chorus is able to project a sense of the drama that unfolds before the listener. In the "Amen" fugue, for example, they sound truly inebriated. While in the Chorus of the Gnomes and Sylphs is sung with ethereal beauty.

    The orchestral playing also captures the dramatic sweep of the story. The Rakoczy March, for example, is truly cataclysmic, as is the initial entrance to Auerbach’s cellar. Where the music is delicate, it is played with appropriate lightness of texture. However, this is not the Boston Symphony as it sounded in February of 1954 under Charles Munch. The orchestral sound is not quite as transparent.

Maurice Laurence, Jr.
Newton, Massachusetts
March 2007

La Damnation de Faust

By Maurice Laurence, Jr. (2)

Hector Berlioz
La Damnation de Faust, op. 24

Orchestre Lamoureux, Paris
Igor Markevitch, Conductor
Richard Verreau, Faust; Michel Roux, Mephistopheles; Consuelo Rubio, Marguerite; Pierre Mollet, Brander
Chœur Elisabeth Brasseur; Chœur Enfants RTF

Deutsche Grammophon 463673-2
Recorded, Paris, Salle de la Mutualite, 5/1959

    The strength in this recording is in the intensity of the orchestral playing, and Markevitch’s attention to detail. For example, the Rákóczy March is frenetic. The woodwinds and the brass are brought forward, with the strings providing emphasis. Near the end, a slowing of the tempo only serves to heighten the cataclysmic effect; the snare drums can be heard sounding through the brass.

    Berlioz lived in a time which, even as it honored the memory of Napoleon, was war weary. Too many had died or been maimed in the battles which, while temporarily victorious, had ultimately ended in ignominious defeat and foreign occupation.

    In this recording, Mephistopheles sounds appropriately greasy and seductive. When we go to the beer cellar the orchestra and choir are loud and raucous. Yet, the sound remains transparent, and lines in the woodwinds are clearly expressed. The Amen Chorus sounds drunk and is a true expression of bestiality.

    Pierre Boulez has compared listening to old recordings to viewing archival photographs. This recording of Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust effectively captures a cultural moment in Paris in the late 1950’s.

Maurice Laurence, Jr.
Newton, Massachusetts
September 2005

La Damnation de Faust

By Maurice Laurence, Jr. (1)

Hector Berlioz
La Damnation de Faust, Op. 24

Boston Symphony Orchestra
Charles Munch, Conductor
Suzanne Danco, soprano; David Poleri, tenor; Martial Singher, baritone; Donald Gramm, bass; McHenry Boatwright, bass (Epilogue On Earth); Harvard Glee Club; Radcliffe Choral Society (G. Wallace Woodworth, director); Joseph De Pasquale, viola solo (Scene 11); Louis Speyer, English horn solo (Scene 15)

Recorded February 21 & 22, 1954
RCA-BMG 82876-60393-2

    The listener is struck by the careful attention Charles Munch pays to the written text. This is a recording that is based on the words and their meaning. The meaning of Goethe’s drama unfolds from these words.

    For example, in scene 1, Faust sings with an underlying sadness in his voice that effectively contrasts his melancholy with the musical picture of early spring conveyed by the music. This contrast makes more believable Faust’s words in scene four that he has left the countryside without regret. However, the singing of the Radcliffe Choral Society in the Chorus of Peasants is so beautiful that one can wonder how he could not have some second thoughts.

    Faust is persistently pursued by his melancholy. Neither his travels to a beer cellar, nor his love for Margarita is able to help him escape his affliction. Thus, when we reach scene 16, the immensity of Faust’s despair is clearly realised both by the somber tone of the orchestra, and by Faust’s own realisation that all is lost. He can only try to lose himself in a storm, and sign a pact with the devil.

    Munch has often been portrayed as an impulsive conductor whose strength was in his exciting and unpredictable live concerts. However, as one listens to this recording, one is struck by his attention to detail and the craft of his work. This is more the Munch that one encounters in his book, I Am a Conductor, where one gains a picture of a musician who presents his work as a very human task of faithfully bringing a musical score to life.

Maurice Laurence, Jr.
Newton, Massachusetts
August 2005


By Maurice Laurence, Jr. (2)

Hector Berlioz

Boston Symphony Orchestra
Charles Munch, Conductor
Leopold Simoneu, Tenor
New England Conservatory Chorus
Lorna Cook de Varon, Director

Recorded, Symphony Hall, Boston, April 26 & 27, 1959
RCA-BMG 82876-60393-2

    The emotional qualities of grief and forgiveness as well as the musical qualities of emotional pathos and compositional form that suffuse Berlioz’s score are all clearly heard on this recording. For example, near the conclusion of the opening Requiem and Kyrie, itself, when one hears the words of perpetual light, one can also hear the strings sound like a solar beam penetrating the clouds. Yet, in the Hostias the closing counterpoint between the flute and the horn is, mercifully, not lingered upon.

    Particularly notable in this recording is the phrasing and orchestral playing within the Offertorium. As one listens to the somber beauty of this music, one can only feel that, already, within the young Berlioz there existed the old man who, alone, would wander among the graves contemplating his mortality.

    This reading of Berlioz’s Requiem is, as the composer intended, on a large scale.

Maurice Laurence, Jr.
Newton, Massachusetts
August 6, 2005

Symphonie fantastique

By Sue Vernon

Hector Berlioz 
Symphonie fantastique / Overture Les Francs-Juges

Roger Norrington conducts the Radio-Sinfonieorchester
SWR Music-Hannsler CLASSIC CD 93.103

    Another new recording of La Symphonie fantastique! But this one, as far as I know, not like any other. I was intrigued because my favourite recording of this was Norrington’s earlier recording with The London Classical Players in 1989 – now that, as many will know, was a recording made on period instruments. This time he has taken a different approach to find once again an authentic performance.

    For me this new recording is a very different style of performance from any I have heard before. Rather than have the orchestra play on period instruments, this time Sir Roger Norrington has the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra playing their usual modern instruments, but modifying their technique and playing them as they would have been played 100 or so years ago, without vibrato.

    This results in a completely different sound. This is a brave attempt to give us Berlioz’s music as he might have heard it himself – and we know how much he disliked the use of vibrato – well, in singing at least.

    This is a live concert and benefits from first rate recording. At times the sound is thinner than that which we are used to hearing, but purer and fresher too, with every instrument more distinct, more soulful. The change in sound affects the whole orchestra, but in particular the brass section, which sounds less muted, rawer, with heightened characterisation, and in places almost like a brass band.

    Right from the beginning the symphony commands your attention, with Rêveries-Passions, a very direct and emotional reading of the movement, the many conflicting emotions are portrayed with real clarity.

    Un Bal, the part of the symphony dearest to my heart, is perhaps less lush than we are used to hearing, but this is compensated for by the distinctness and beauty of the harp.

    The Scène aux Champs is remarkable in that it unfailingly holds the interest, with a vivid musical expedition to the countryside, suggested uncannily by the instruments, with excellent playing by the cor anglais and the oboe, eventually leading into the percussion’s rumbling thunder – the percussion section also have a different timbre, they can play softer one moment, and really explode the next, so this becomes a real build up to the next movement, here a very chilling Marche au Supplice, and on to the particularly eerie and unholy Songe d’une nuit de Sabbat with the most incredible ‘bells’.

    Far from a heavy handed interpretation, this whole performance lets the music speak for itself, it is designed to take you well into the very heart of the story, from what I read in the notes this is what Roger Norrington wanted to achieve, and this is what he has achieved, this is quite possibly another of those real landmark recordings – time will tell. But any devotee of Berlioz will want to hear this. Apart from the Symphonie fantastique itself the money spent is well worth it for the accompanying Les Francs-Juges Overture alone. I suggest you listen more than once before making up your mind about this CD.

Sue Vernon
March 2005


In Roger Norrington’s own words from the CD booklet:

"this is to see what the great works of the past sound like when played by a modern orchestra but with all the attention to historical detail which characterised my performance all those years ago with the London Classical Players. To me, it is fascinating to hear a modern orchestra playing in the way in which no modern orchestra has played since about 1910, when 20th century continuous vibrato began to overtake the orchestral world. Since then we have not really heard those works in the way that the composers expected them to be heard. Berlioz never heard an orchestra playing with vibrato, nor did Brahms or Mahler. So this recording and a number of others can show the way to a future possible complete re-interpretation of the orchestral ‘literature’ of the past. Played with pure tone, Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique can sound more frightening, sadder, younger, more innocent, altogether invoke more sympathy from its hearers. Instead of being a confident swagger through *romantic* history it can become instead the tenderest document of the human heart. The human heart was where Berlioz’s genius lay, that is what we seek from this performance of the Symphonie fantastique."

and, from the Sunday Times review by Dan Cairns:

"Norrington’s 1989 Symphonie fantastique with the period instrument London Classical Players was a landmark recording. Now, 15 years later, comes a live recording with his Stuttgart band, a modern-instrument orchestra applying the methods and styles the conductor pioneered in the 1980s, and giving a performance of equal vividness but greater warmth, notably in the long, pastoral middle movement. The march and the witches’ sabbath, taken very steadily, build up formidable tension, with superb woodwind and brass. The disc has the bonus of an electrifying (live) account of the Francs-Juges Overture, the work in which the young Berlioz first found his true voice".

Roméo et Juliette

By Maurice Laurence, Jr.

Hector Berlioz
Roméo et Juliette, Op. 17

Margaret Roggero, mezzo soprano
Leslie Chabay, tenor
Yi-Kwei Sze, bass
Harvard Glee Club
Radcliffe Choral Society
Artistic director: G. Wallace Woodworth
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Music Director: Charles Munch

Recorded in Symphony Hall, Boston 22 & 23 February 1953
RCA/BMG 09026-60681-2

    This recording has considerable historical interest. The Boston Symphony still has its famous characteristic 1940’s sound, and the listener is able to hear how Charles Munch conducted when he was still relatively new with the orchestra.

    The recording was made prior to the high fidelity recording. However, this interpretation contains a fidelity which is greater than the mechanics of sound. Charles Munch obviously is committed to this music and the message it conveys. This is especially evident in the finale. The young women’s voices of the Radcliffe Choral Society are especially fitting for this work, and when Yi-Kwei Sze sings the closing words of Friar Laurence he does so with an attention to phrasing that lifts the music into the heart.

"Nous jurons tous d’eteindre enfin…
Amis, amis, por toujours!"

Maurice Laurence, Jr.
Newton, Massachusetts
December 2004

Overture to Béatrice et Bénédict

By Maurice Laurence, Jr.

Hector Berlioz
Overture to Béatrice et Bénédict 

Boston Symphony Orchestra
Charles Munch, Music Director

Date of Recording: 1949
RCA/BMG 82876-60393-2

    By 1862, when Hector Berlioz wrote the Beatrice and Benedict Overture, he was beyond the infatuations of his youth, and in some ways this music conveys a mature retrospection on the nature of love and the joy that it contains.

    In 1949, Charles Munch became the Music Director of the Boston Symphony. This recording of the Beatrice and Benedict Overture was recorded during that year. It is a real gem. The players of the Boston Symphony were joyful at the appointment of their new Music Director, and this joy sounds forth fully and clearly in this recording. It is not the sound engineering alone but the orchestral playing that gives the strings the full sound and the horns the expressive lines and flourishes. It is wonderful to hear this music played so fully and so well.

Maurice Laurence
Newton, Massachusetts
December 2004

Symphonie fantastique

By Maurice Laurence, Jr. (1)

Hector Berlioz
Symphonie fantastique

Berlin Philharmonic
Igor Markevitch, Conductor

Date of Recording: 23-29 November 1953
Place of Recording: Berlin-Dahlem, Jesus-Christus-Kirche
Deutsche Grammophon 474 787-2

    In its historical context, Igor Markevitch’s 1953 recording of Berlioz Symphony Fantastique is not just noteworthy, it is astonishing. While he preserved the naturalness and expressiveness of their ensemble, Markevitch was able to lead the Berlin Philharmonic to speak a musical language and idiom that was outside its accustomed repertoire. This years before Karajan would transform this orchestra into a powerhouse of sound that could capture Debussy.

    In 1953, the Berlin Philharmonic was still Wilhelm Furtwangler’s orchestra. When you listen to a recording from that year of the Berlin Philharmonic playing Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony under this conductor, you can hear what this meant. Throughout there is a free use of rubato and the second movement, Allegretto, is slowed almost to an adagio. Expressiveness is everything; the orchestral sound is natural and unadorned, and the music almost speaks to the listener. The New International Style had yet to come into prominence.

    This recording of Berlioz Symphony fantastique contains magic. In the first movement the woodwinds and horns are forward, there is attention to counterpoint, and the inner voice of the strings is clearly heard. The rhythmic transition from the opening theme to the fixed idea is pointedly playful. At the beginning of the second movement waltz the harp sounds clearly; the waltz, itself, is refined and sentimental. In the third movement the off-stage oboe really sounds appropriately distant. This adds to the effect of space and openness, and at the end the four timpani rumble ominously. The fourth movement, March to the Scaffold, has inevitability in the rhythm, the bassoon is forward, the horns clearly heard, and a sardonic quality pervades. In the fifth movement, Witches Sabbath, the fixed idea is played mockingly by the clarinet, and the entire woodwind band joins in with appropriate whimsical humor. The chimes are eerie, with a hushed chime just before the Dies Irae, and then the pizzicato in the strings is precise. Throughout the entire performance the sense of isolation, longing, and sentimentality is conveyed with precision and beauty.

    Igor Markevitch studied under the great Nadia Boulanger. His gift with music of the French repertoire can be clearly heard in this recording from Berlin. The place is appropriate, some of Berlioz’s greatest triumphs occurred outside France.

Maurice Laurence, Jr.
Newton, Massachusetts
December 2004


 By Maurice Laurence, Jr. (1)

Hector Berlioz
Requiem, Op. 5

Boston Symphony Orchestra
Tanglewood Festival Chorus
Vinson Cole, tenor
Seiji Ozawa, conductor

Recorded in concert at Symphony Hall, Boston, October 1993
RCA-BMG 09026-62544-2

    The Boston Symphony has a grand tradition with this work. Charles Munch conducted it in a 1959 concert when he was the Music Director of this orchestra. The current recording marked Seiji Ozawa’s twentieth year as the Boston Symphony’s Music Director, and despite the weight of tradition, this is Ozawa’s own recording, inward and almost prayerful in character.

    From the beginning the listener is struck by the tremendous precision of orchestral playing. This allows for the inward lines of the music to be heard more clearly. This is especially evident in the Offertorium. When the chorus sings "bring them into holy light" the orchestra plays with a gentle lyricism that suggests forgiveness.

    In the Sanctus, the tenor, Vinson Cole, sings in dialogue with the women of the chorus. This dialogue has a poignant dramatic aspect. It is as if the souls of the departed, now angels, are answering back to the solitary man left on earth and telling him that they are now at peace.

    I saw Seiji Ozawa conduct this work in 1977, at Tanglewood, in Lenox, Massachusetts, and in October 2001 at Symphony Hall, Boston. The latter concert was a memorial to all who had lost their lives in the September 11th attacks. In the Sanctus the angelic voices sang from the rear balcony, and spoke from the heavens to the tenor on the stage. It was a moment of supreme consolation.

Maurice Laurence, Jr.
November 2004

The Hector Berlioz Website was created by Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin on 18 July 1997; the Reviews page created in November 2004. 

© Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin. All rights reserved.

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