Colin Davis’s 1969 recording remains a landmark event, the first time this grand opera of Meyerbeerian length, spectacular éclat and Wagnerian artistic ambition had found its way complete onto LP. It effectively changed views about Berlioz the opera composer and orchestral genius and has for many remained the yardstick by which all later performances have been judged. Although studio recorded, it was based on the Covent Garden casting of the day – Jon Vickers’s heroic Aeneas and Josephine Veasey’s voluptuous Dido – with a couple of Frenchmen to boost the ranks of lesser Trojans and Carthaginians…
…This is a performance that holds your attention from first note to last–a rare feat in this work. (Munch's later Deutsche Grammophon effort pales by comparison, both sonically and interpretively.) If you want this Berlioz Requiem (and you do), SACD is the way to hear it.
This is a delightful recording from a conductor more closely allied than any other to Berlioz's music. With Berlioz the devil is always in the detail; he was an extraordinary orchestrator and capable of writing unidiomatically for instruments–especially the woodwinds–in order to get exactly the sound he wanted. Or rather, sounds, for the whole texture is made up of many layers. Davis understands this as if by instinct, and draws some beautiful playing from the instrumentalists without ever losing sight of the whole picture. It has been said that the French style of phrasing is all foreplay and no climax: the singers bring this teasing quality to their long, flowing lines but with a charmingly English home-counties blush too. Elsie Moris's light tone is a perfect match for Peter Pears' cool, silvery voice in this respect - and the choir too makes a good full sound without ever getting too heavy. The two discs also include some other gems from the pen of this most idiosyncratic of composers.
Despite the efforts of conductors such as Roger Norrington and John Eliot Gardiner from the 1980s onwards, period instrument performances of Berlioz in general and the Symphonie Fantastique in particular are relatively rare on disc; currently, the only rivals to Jos van Immerseel's new version with his Bruges-based orchestra seem to be those by Gardiner and Norrington themselves. Immerseel's approach, his choice of tempi and phrasing, are relatively conservative – the account of the exuberant Roman Carnival overture is positively staid – but the raw edge that the period instruments bring to Berlioz's soundworld is often viscerally exciting, with a pair of ophicleides adding a feral growl to the brass bass lines.
Les Troyens is a tour de force that ranges from fiery military marches to intense choruses, passionate soliloquies and the lyrical love duets of Dido and Aeneas. For Hector Berlioz, librettist and composer, the opera became the work of decades and the passion of a lifetime, the culmination of his literary love affair with Virgil's Aeneid and with two tragic heroines, Cassandra and Dido. David McVicar's staging is on an enormous scale, assembling one of the largest casts ever seen at Covent Garden. The sweeping theme of the rise and fall of empires runs throughout Les Troyens, along with moving meditations on love and honour.
This imaginative staging of Berlioz's dramatic symphony for chorus, soloists and orchestra relies heavily on the moving of massed choirs across a large stage. It has vivid lighting effects–rather too many of them using strobes–and monolithic multi-purpose sets, in particular a revolving glass drum which functions both as cinema screen and rostrum for singers, so that the final ride to Hell, for example, is sung by Mephistopheles and Faust above a cavalcade of projected horses, like the inside of a zoetrope. The three main soloists have voices on a scale that can compete with these flashy production values–White and Kasarova, in particular, sing at a level of intensity that would swamp anything less; the climactic seduction trio has rarely been sung so well or with such an overpoweringly polymorphous eroticism. Cambreling marshals his forces effectively, giving full rein to the work's showstoppers like the "Hungarian March" but not neglecting the subtler less kinetic Gluckian side of Berlioz's vocal writing. (Roz Kaveney)
"…An amazing SACD. As interpretations, both of these are in a class of their own, the Franck having strong claims of being the best ever performance of this greatest French late romantic orchestral work. Almost certainly they will never be equalled let alone bettered on SACD." ~SA-CD.net
The nine-time Juno-winning Canadian James Ehnes is centre stage in a new recording of orchestral works by Berlioz, with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Andrew Davis. This recording was made following an extraordinary concert in November 2014 with the same forces, in which James Ehnes played two instruments made by Stradivarius, respectively a viola in the solo part of Harold en Italie – ‘symphony with a principal viola part’, in Berlioz’s words – and a violin in the solo of Rêverie et Caprice, both of which works feature here.