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Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
La Damnation de Faust (1846)
Marguerite - Marie-Ange Todorovitch (mezzo)
Faust - Michael Myers (tenor)
Méphistophélès - Alain Vernhes (baritone)
Brander - Rene Schirrer (bass)
Philippe Gérard (cor anglais)
Slovak Philharmonic Choir
Lille National Orchestra/Jean-Claude Casadesus
rec. live, LíAuditorium du Nouveau Siècle, Lille, November 2003
NAXOS 8.660116/17 [58.22 + 65.23]


Budget price Fausts are not exactly two-a-penny and itís welcome that Naxos has turned its attention to the work in this live performance given over consecutive days in Lille. It features the townís orchestra and the itinerant Slovak Philharmonic Choir, a popular recording chorus for Naxos, a liking doubtless enhanced by the relative weakness of the Slovak Crown. But letís leave economics to one side. The cast is a good one, the orchestra idiomatic and Jean-Claude Casadesus, who has made his mark on disc before, is at the helm.

Iíd be happy to recommend this as a starter pack for Faust but there are too many little weaknesses for it to be any more durable than that. Michael Myers is the Faust and he begins with something of a bleat in his voice; throughout thereís a tightening or constriction in the voice that never allows for proper freedom of vocal production. It doesnít stop a distinct ardency however and one canít fault his ardour in the Easter Hymn scene. As the evening develops he grows in confidence and his tone centres more adroitly Ė sample Part IIIís aria Merci. doux crepuscule! Ė though I still donít find myself convinced by his Dans mon Coeur retentit sa voix.

The Méphistophélès is Alain Vernhes and he cuts a firmer, suaver, more interesting figure, irrespective of the theatrical potential of the respective roles. His is not a sepulchral baritone; in point of fact itís rather elegant and that informs his impersonation. Thereís real gravity and nobility in his Part II Scene VII aria Voici des roses and though one can imagine rather greater resources of black-hued evil, Vernhes cuts something of a forked dash.

Marguerite is taken by Marie-Ange Todorovitch, who sounds an assured theatrical animal, if that doesnít sound too ungallant. The middle of her voice is plangent, though itís inclined to be edgy toward the top and her initial appearance in Part II is not consistently impressive. Thereís a metallic strata in Que líair and the King of Thule song goes for little. She grows in confidence and in stature rapidly though and by Scene XIII she is in commanding form, though it should be noted that Myers struggles somewhat in their duet. Rene Schirrerís Brander is first class.

The chorus sound well drilled though they arenít always as responsive to mood and characterization as they might be. This is also true of the orchestra. They play well but rhythms can be rather becalmed and accents can retard theatrical impetus. In that the conductor Casadesus has the principal responsibility. Generally heís a scrupulous, decent Berlioz conductor but he falls prey to a certain lassitude when an injection of adrenalin is required. He takes care over sectional balancing and he and the recording team have equally taken care over the balance between solo voices, orchestra and chorus. In the end though itís only partially convincing. The 1973 Colin Davis, considerably preferable to his recent live Barbican recording, remains a solid, central recommendation.

As usual the libretto needs to be downloaded Ė a synopsis is provided. A neat touch is added by the identification of the cor anglais soloist, a courtesy that should be extended to more orchestral players.

Jonathan Woolf



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