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Berlioz: Roméo et Juliette - Davis

Berlioz: Roméo et Juliette - Davis

Chandos  CHSA 5169 (2 discs)

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Vocal


Berlioz: Roméo et Juliette; Marche troyenne & Chasse royale et Orage from Les Troyens

Michèle Losier (mezzo-soprano)
Samuel Boden (tenor)
David Soar (bass)
BBC Symphony Chorus
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Sir Andrew Davis (conductor)


After two volumes with other top international Chandos orchestras in this Berlioz series, Sir Andrew Davis joins the BBC Symphony – where he is Conductor Laureate – for a new recording.

The highlight in this double SACD album is Roméo et Juliette, Berlioz’s third symphony, which draws once again on his greatest literary passion, Shakespeare, and on his own most fervent experiences. It is coupled with two excerpts from the largest work Berlioz ever attempted, the opera Les Troyens, based on Virgil, another literary passion. Both show Berlioz’s orchestral wizardry, using offstage brass and drums to represent the hunters’ calls and the storm in ‘Royal Hunt and Storm’ and the glory of Rome in the ‘Trojan March’.

The recording follows a historic performance with the same forces at the Barbican in January: a ‘magical revelation... that wrought shivers’ (Bachtrack), in which ‘one could feel the instant rightness of the sonorous imagery Berlioz devises’ (The Sunday Times). The concert and recording project marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

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Recorded at the Fairfield Halls, Croydon, on 17 May 2015 ('Chasse royale et orage'), and 23-25 January 2016 (other works), 24/96

Recording producer: Brian Pidgeon

Sound engineer: Ralph Couzens

Assistant engineer: Jonathan Cooper

Editor: Rosanna Fish

A & R administrator: Sue Shortridge

Microphones: Thuresson; CM 402 (main sound), Schoeps; MK22 / MK4 / MK6, DPA; 4006 & 4011 & Neumann; U89.
CM 402 microphones are hand built by the designer, Jörgen Thuresson, in Sweden.
Reviews (1)
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Review by John Broggio - September 3, 2016

A generally satisfying reading of Berlioz's take on Romeo & Juliet, with the usual fidelity afforded by the engineering team.

If one were to judge the musical qualities of the BBC SO and Andrew Davis by their appearances at countless Last Night of the Proms performances (as I must admit to doing in my less - musically - mature days), one will staggered at the passion and timbre produced here. Right from the off, in the fugato the strings play with a fervour that wrests the attention of anyone in earshot; similarly the interplay between lower woodwind and brass is very much a sound that one has come to expect from Andrew's namesake. In the prologue (part I), the BBC Symphony Chorus excel as does the mezzo-soprano of Michele Losier and tenor of Samuel Boden. The upper woodwind & pizzicato strings deserve plaudits for their accompaniment of Boden, whose admirably clear diction is mirrored in the orchestra.

In part II, the purely orchestral depiction of Romeo draws delightfully eloquent from all the orchestra, responding with genuine feeling to the score and Davis' baton until the party music quite takes ones breath away in these hands. In all except one aspect, the "strangeness" characteristic of Berlioz's music is exalted by the orchestra and conductor alike. The aspect not exalted in? Once again, inexplicably, this conductor & recording team conspire to undermine Berlioz's contrasting writing for the violins by refusing to seat them antiphonally - a great shame for such positioning (apart from making for delightful stereo effects) enormously enhances clarity of textures. To continue part II, the mood changes dramatically with the love scene, and after a brief choral contribution, transforms into a rhapsodic outpouring of emotion from the orchestra. To the credit of Davis & the BBC SO, the remnants of the previous music and the foreshadowing of the Queen Mab scherzo sound natural musical bedfellows of this lyrical episode because of the care of playing, choice of tempo and sensitive use of rubato. Concluding part II, is the famous Queen Mab scherzo which sounds here as radical as it must have done on its premiere - absolutely wonderfully sensitive playing from all concerned & arguably worth the price of the set on its own!

On the second disc, the final part of this work opens with Juliet's funeral music which is yet another transformation of the main musical material. The sotto-voce singing of the BBC SO Chorus is a delightful foil to the gradually fracturing orchestral contribution; only in the closing bars of this section does the orchestral music regain its cohesive line - yet another example where Berlioz's musical treatment foreshadows so many masterpieces. In this and the following music depicting Romeo in the Capulets tomb, the sense of unease is vividly conveyed in both the more reflective music as well as the increasingly agitated passages by Davis and the BBC SO. The happiness of Juliet's awakening is suitably undermined by the more anxious way Berlioz writes and Davis conducts until fate audibly catches up with the ill-fated lovers. Berlioz & the full forces under Davis' baton achieve a similar trick in the opening of the Finale where hope gives way to grief. David Soar gives a suitably reproving "lecture" to the assembled masses that builds to a convincing apotheosis.

By means of encores, we are treated to the Trojan March and the Royal Hunt & Storm from Les Troyens. Both pieces are delivered with audible enjoyment from all concerned and makes for a very pleasant way to round off this set. The recording itself, made in Croydon's Fairfield Halls, is very listenable indeed, with a very wide dynamic range and a broad spread of the forces involved. There are the customary notes and translations.

To sum up, this is a fine account and recording of one of Berlioz's relatively neglected works that fairly attempts to put it centre stage. For those who antiphonal violins is unimportant, this warrants an easy 5-stars; if I were to mark it purely with my own prejudices in mind, I'd give it 4-stars for performance but I won't because that wouldn't reflect the likely impressions most listeners would form.

Copyright © 2016 John Broggio and HRAudio.net

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Comments (3)
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Comment by hiredfox - August 25, 2016 (1 of 3)

Seems a pity that this follows so closely on the heels of Gergiev in competition with which there is surely only one winner. Both recorded at the Barbican Hall which will make for another interesting comparison, ammunition a plenty for the Classic Sounds bashers?

Having bought the LSO Live offering it is unlikely this new Chandos recording will make it's way into our collection.

Comment by James L. Kreh - August 25, 2016 (2 of 3)

The statement in the previous comment by hiredfox that this was recorded at Barbican Hall is not correct. On page 62 of the booklet (downloaded from the Chandos website), the recording location is listed as Fairfield Halls, Croydon.

Comment by hiredfox - August 29, 2016 (3 of 3)

Oh! I read this somewhere and will try to find the reference again.