Concert Review

Berlioz Beatrice et Benedict. Soloists, London Symphony Chorus andOrchestra/Sir Colin Davis. Barbican, June 6 2000. (CC)


The Davis/LSO Berlioz series continued last night with the sparkling Beatrice et Benedict. Written thirty five years after Berlioz' first exposure to the  Bard, it is loosely based on Much Ado about Nothing. It was this Shakespearian theme that was highlighted in Tuesday's performance, with Elijah Moshinsky replacing Berlioz' original dialogue with selected passages from Shakespeare's original (read not by the singers, but by a separate troupe of actors). However, given that the chorus sang in French and the actors spoke in English, there was a resultant schizophrenic bilingualism which jarred throughout.

There were, additionally, some unaccredited changes to the score: the first number was effectively cut (retaining only the first five bars), before jumping to the second; similarly, only the second verse of the 'Grotesque Epithalamium' was performed, the coarser first being omitted for reasons difficult to fathom.

Throughout, tempos were beautifully judged and the orchestra displayed true sensitivity. The soloists were strong, although Susan Gritton (taking the part of Hero) seemed to be warming up in her first aria, Je vais le voir. Similarly, Enkelejda Shkosa lost some control in Beatrice's first entrance. Perhaps she was overshadowed by the sensitive and wholly musical tenor of Kenneth Tarver as Benedict? The good news is that the Nocturne at the end of Act One (the big hit number at the premiere) was magical. This duet between Gritton and the mezzo Sara Mingardo (as Ursula) held its atmospheric spell throughout. The spindly accompaniment was superbly balanced, providing a delicate web of sound over which the soloists weaved their lines. In fact, it was the female ensembles which provided the most memorable moments of the evening the Trio between Hero, Ursula and Beatrice in Act Two being particularly spine-tingling. The LSC were their usual polished, diamond selves, their attack and balance expertly judged (perhaps a quick mention for the uncredited chorus tenor Simon Bainbridge, whose exhortation of 'let's have another verse!' in the Drinking Chorus was willingly taken up). The baritone Laurent Naouri was characterful as Claudio. Of the actors, it was Barbara Flynn as Beatrice who impressed with a most stimulating and coquettish sensuality. The two performances of Beatrice are being recorded for future release in the LSO Live series, and, in addition, Thursday' s concert will be broadcast live on Radio Three.

Colin Clarke

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