Berlioz: La Damnation de Faust - Ozawa
PentaTone RQR PTC 5186 212 (2 discs)
Classical - Vocal
Berlioz: La Damnation de Faust
Stuart Burrows, tenor
Edith Mathis, mezzo-soprano
Donald McIntyre, bass-baritone
Thomas Paul, bass
Judith Dickinson, soprano
Tanglewood Festival Chorus
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Digitally re-mastered on 2 SACDs, this PENTATONE release also features a complete libretto both in French and English.
The re-mastering and re-release on SACD bears witness to a perfect blend of the past and present, just as Hector Berlioz combined it in La damnation de Faust. He told the story in a fascinatingly modern manner - so modern, that we are able to translate for our ears the extreme paradoxes of drinking song and fugue, rides to hell and heavenly apotheosis, prayer and march, into colourful, dramatic images and let our imaginations run wild.
Recorded with a solid team of performers such as Edith Mathis (soprano), Stuart Burrows (tenor), Donald McIntyre(bass), Thomas Paul (bass), Judith Dickinson (solo in Dans le ciel), Tanglewood Festival Chorus, Boston Boy Choir, together with Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Seiji Ozawa, this recording lets us relish in their prime performance of orchestral playing and singing.
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Review by Graham Williams - March 11, 2015
This is the first recording of Berlioz's 'La Damnation de Faust' to appear on SACD and it represents a remarkable improvement on the previous LP and CD releases of this 1973 set. For this remastering PENTATONE have used the original 4.0 channel quadraphonic Deutsche Grammophon tapes which have been expertly remastered by Polyhymnia to produce a pretty spectacular realisation of the work – one that sonically, at least, does full justice to the composer's description of the piece as a 'Légende dramatique'.
The recording was taped in October 1973 shortly after Seiji Ozawa had been appointed as musical director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in what might be described as the honeymoon period of the long relationship between this conductor and his orchestra.
Ozawa goes for visceral excitement and fast speeds in his account of the score revelling in the magnificent orchestral playing of his virtuoso orchestra. He frequently ignores Berlioz's tempo directions and presses forward whenever possible. One such example is the celebrated 'Marche Hongroise' which begins steadily and then gradually accelerates to a barnstorming conclusion. This approach, though undeniably exciting, is the antithesis of that adopted by Colin Davis on both of his recordings (Philips and LSO Live). Davis illuminates passages in the work that Ozawa merely glosses over in his eagerness to maintain the momentum of Berlioz's masterpiece. Having said that, Ozawa's accounts of the other famous orchestral sections – the 'Ballet des Sylphes' and 'Menuet des Feux Follets' are crisply pointed and delightfully characterful.
When it comes to the soloists Ozawa has a trump card with Stuart Burrows in the role of Faust. His elegant phrasing and legato singing matched with excellent diction hold one's attention throughout. He conveys the character's world weariness at the work's opening “ Le vieil hiver a fait place au printemps” and he delivers the Invocation to Nature “ Nature immense, impénétrable et fière” with rhapsodic power and nobility. The Méphistophélès of Donald McIntyre, a singer who later became celebrated for his roles in Wagner, is also most impressive. His legato singing is perhaps less secure, but few will be disappointed with his vivid characterisation. Edith Mathis sings most beautifully as Marguerite, a role more often assigned to a mezzo soprano. She brings refinement and beauty of tone to both her big arias, seemingly unfazed by Ozawa's fast tempo for 'Le Roi de Thulé'.
The full-throated choral singing from the large Tanglewood Festival Chorus whether as peasants, soldiers, students or demons is especially thrilling, and though their words are often lost in the reverberant acoustic of Symphony Hall their enthusiasm is palpable.
The two SACDs come packaged within a hard-backed book that includes notes on the work and the French / English libretto in readable type.
I have left the best for last – the use of the surround sound.
All four channels are used, not just for ambient information, but to convey the movements of the, characters, various choral groupings and off-stage brass etc., in order to provide a convincing realisation of what is essentially a cinematic work for the imagination.
Those listeners with a surround sound set-up will assuredly be most impressed.
Copyright © 2015 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net