For some reason Arthaus
is reticent about giving full recording
details for this splendid recording.
Also, in the notes, they are at pains
to point out that the bass soloist,
Peter Meven, died in 2003 at the ripe
old age of 74. However, once the DVD
has played itself out, the credits give
the recording date as 1985, so all is
well, with Peter Meven being therefore
only 56 at the time of the sessions.
We have been very lucky
with Berlioz over the years with superb
recordings by acknowledged Berlioz experts
such as Munch, Monteux, Beecham, and
in more recent times, Sir Colin Davis.
of Berlioz’s dramatic symphony is well
known although his reading has changed
somewhat over the years. It has gradually
slowed down. When this concert was recorded
he was in fine form. By the way, his
well-known ‘vocalisations’ which have
taken the gilt off a few of his recent
LSO Live discs are less in evidence
Although Davis recorded
the symphony for Philips with the Vienna
Philharmonic using the current chorus
there has been relatively little Berlioz
from his Bavarian Radio days. The Bavarian
Radio Symphony Orchestra, a very fine
orchestra, is here caught in fine fettle,
following their chief conductor’s directions
to the letter. The lower strings are
particularly fine and this shows to
stunning effect through the big climax
of the love scene.
The soloists are excellent
with Hanna Schwarz singing the Strophes
immaculately, setting the scene for
Philip Langridge to perform the relatively
short tenor part with his usual style
and accuracy. Berlioz was unwilling
to allow the solo voices to express
the emotions of the Romeo and Juliet
story. The voices were therefore used
as commentary to the story rather than
central to the action. The emotional
burden is carried by the orchestra.
This is not to say that the choral and
solo vocal parts are unimportant, but
the central core is without doubt orchestral.
et Juliette to make the requisite
effect it needs an orchestra and conductor
who are absolutely in accord with the
composer’s wishes. With this performance
this is exactly what we have. Having
seen Davis perform this symphony a few
times in London with the LSO at the
Barbican, this DVD brought back many
memories - all of them positive.
Are there any shortcomings
with this live recording? Audience noise
is often a problem if there are no chances
to patch and repair serious mishaps.
On this DVD there are very few of these
problems once the concert has started.
Before the performance gets underway
there is an absolute cacophony of coughing
and spluttering from the audience which
lead me to think that I was in for a
rough ride. Apart from a few loud coughs
during Hanna Schwarz’s Strophes, just
before the very moving solo cello interjection
before the last verse, and then again
during the funeral scene just before
the final chorus, the audience is commendably
I would have thought
that the composer’s use of antique cymbals
at the close of the Queen Mab scherzo
would have warranted a brief appearance.
They were clearly audible, but are not
visible at all. A pity.
Finally, Peter Meven
sings his part in the last chorus with
aplomb, although at times his pitching
could have been a little more accurate.
However, he sounds convincingly like
Friar Lawrence, which is how it should
be. I was very pleased to listen to
his stentorian voice, taking command
of this last movement to great effect.
This DVD is highly
recommended, particularly for fans of
Sir Colin Davis and the composer. Judging
by the reception from a capacity audience
they were also in agreement.