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Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
Eliahu Inbal Berlioz Edition (11 CDs)

CD1 [56:05]
Symphonie Fantastique, Op: 14 (1830) [56:05]
CD2 [40:22]
Harold en Italie, Op: 16 (1834) [40:22]
Yuri Bashmet (viola)
CD3 [58:06]; CD4 [69:01]
La Damnation de Faust (1845-6) [127:07]
Maria Ewing (soprano), Dues Gulyas (tenor), Robert Lloyd (baritone), Manfred Volz (bass)
Kölner Rundfundchor, Südfunkchor Stuttgart, Chor des NDR Hamburg
CD5 [50:32]; CD6 [44:33]
Roméo et Juliette, Op: 17 (1839) [95:05]
Nadine Denize (mezzo), Vinson Cole (tenor), Robert Lloyd (baritone)
Südfunkchor Stuttgart, RIAS Kammerchor Berlin
CD7 [39:28]; CD8 [51:54]
L'Enfance du Christ (1854) [91:22]
Margarita Zimmermann (soprano), Eike Wilm Schulte (baritone), Stanford Dean (bass), John Aler (tenor), Philip Kang (bass)
Kölner Rundfundchor, Chor des NDR Hamburg
CD9 [47:31]
Te Deum, Op: 22 (1849) [47:31]
Keith Lewis (tenor)
Matthias Eisenberg (organ)
Vokalensemble Frankfurt, Bachchor und Currende der Christuskirche Mainz, Kinder und Jugendchor des Hessischen Rundfunks
CD10 [46:36]; CD11 [35:55]
Requiem, Op: 5 (1837) [82:31]
Keith Lewis (tenor)
Chor des NDR Hamburg, Konzertvereinigung ORF-Chor
Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra/Eliahu Inbal
rec: 24-25 Sept 1987 (Symphonie Fantastique), 24-25 March 1988 (Harold en Italie), 16-18 February 1988 (La Damnation de Faust), 3-6 January 1988 (Roméo et Juliette), 31 May-3 June 1989 (L'Enfance du Christ), 25-26 February 1988 (Te Deum), 1988 (Requiem), Alte Oper Frankfurt. DDD
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 99999 [11 CDs: 56:05 + 40:22 + 58:06 + 69:01 + 50:32 + 44:33 + 39:28 + 51:54 + 47:31 + 46:36 + 35:55]



 

This 11 CD Berlioz compilation was reviewed here in May 2003 and I would refer you to the excellent comments by Terry Barfoot.

Why another review, albeit four years later? I don’t think anything has changed. There have been no added items and the material is exactly the same as before. However, we all have differing opinions on the same subject and I do have some observations, if only because it behoves me to say something after taking part in over nine hours of listening. Not that the experience hasn’t been pleasurable. On the contrary, most of it has been quite enriching and I will restrict myself mostly to the manner Berlioz has chosen to approach and treat his works.

I should state from the outset that my comments neither diminish the professionalism in which this album has been compiled, nor the excellence of its orchestra, chorus and soloists nor the leadership and musicality of its conductor, Eliahu Inbal.

Maestro Inbal has already recorded for Denon a compilation of Mahler’s Symphonies that included Das Lied von der Erde. The Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra was in full cry then also. Inbal is a 71 year old Israeli national of vast musical experience who came to the notice of Leonard Bernstein and at one time used to mimic the great American conductor by allowing himself to be recorded while singing along to whatever was being played. I don’t think this album has any examples of this idiosyncrasy!

For a non-religious person Berlioz spent an inordinate amount of time composing religious works. There’s his first serious work Messe Solennelle which he wrote in 1824 and allegedly destroyed but which turned up in Antwerp in 1991 and was given its first performance in Paris in 1993. The Messe is not part of this album but his other religious works are: The Requiem written in 1837, the Te Deum completed in 1850 and the oratorio L’Enfance du Christ written between the years 1850 and 1854. Except for the latter the religious works on this compilation are written in a style that would have raised a few contemporary musical eyebrows. The Requiem, except for one brief episode in the Sanctus sung by a tenor, uses only chorus and orchestra. The choral music has been written so that the voices are predominantly male and the tenor line is strong and forceful. That in itself is unusual for this period. The orchestration for the brass section is also very striking with four brass bands playing simultaneously to ear-splitting decibel readings in the Tuba Mirum. The Te Deum is more conventional although once again the soloist, another tenor, is used sparingly.
L’Enfance du Christ is also very conventional and what one would expect from a French composer. It is operatic in nature, relies heavily on strings and woodwinds and the brass section is seldom allowed to disrupt the tranquil settings of the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt. A ‘recitant’ and chorus are used to help the story along although the main characters of Herod, Joseph and Mary are sung by a bass, a baritone and a soprano respectively.
Berlioz was never accepted by his countrymen as a composer of any great distinction. Even to this day he is regarded much more highly away from his country of birth. Why that is the case is a matter for conjecture. True his compositions required a vast orchestra and French classical music of the period was ostensibly a more genteel affair, more intimate. Berlioz’s writings were brash, a bit over the top and highly unconventional. The fact that Berlioz could only play the flute and the guitar and couldn’t illustrate any of his works on the instrument all composers utilised for composition, the piano, was held against him.

And yet it is this very lack of established musical fundamentals that propelled him to write such innovative works as the Symphonie Fantastique and, to a lesser extent, Harold en Italie. If Berlioz had only written his Symphonie and nothing else, he would have forever been labelled a genius. Of course, we all know how Berlioz became infatuated with a Shakespearian actress called Harriet Smithson and how his passion for her led to the composition of this semi-autobiographical symphony which he subtitled ‘Episodes in the life of an artist.’ The music is immediate, the orchestration the stuff of story-telling sans paroles, the tension intense and the use of kettle drums echoing in a darkened void, leading to the cataclysmic Marche au Supplice is creative music at its best. The final movement Songe d’une nuit du Sabbat with the ‘Dies Irae’ evoking reminders of man’s mortality is spine-tingling. It is almost supernatural in its appeal and one wonders whether Berlioz was not under the influence when he was inspired to write it. This version of Berlioz’s masterpiece is superb and second only to Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic.

Whereas Symphonie Fantastique was inspired by Berlioz’s infatuation with Harriet Smithson, Harold en Italie was inspired by a lack of funds. What was meant to be a viola concerto commissioned by Niccolo Paganini turned out to be a full-blown symphony with the odd viola obbligato. Paganini was not impressed with the work but eventually gave Berlioz 20,000 francs for his trouble when he (Paganini) realised that the piece was not half bad. The explosive finale alone is worth the price of admission. But Paganini never played the piece.
The money, however, enabled Berlioz to compose Romeo et Juliette which he labelled a ‘dramatic symphony’. It’s a hybrid piece with seven movements, a chorus, three soloists and a tender orchestral love-scene tableau. The tenor, mezzo-soprano and chorus are present only as observers to aid the audience understand how the story unfolds and the bass part - Friar Lawrence, sung here by Robert Lloyd - is the only singer with a character part. This is Shakespeare-à-la-Berlioz and not in any shape or form the noble drama enacted at Stratford-on-Avon. The words were actually written by Emile Deschamps and even the plot is not strictly as written by the Bard. The version on which Berlioz based his piece was performed with Harriet Smithson as Juliet in September 1827. Forgetting for a moment that Berlioz’s comprehension of English was minimal, the play he saw had already been adapted by David Garrick and quite a few scenes had either been changed or placed in a different sequence.

I have left my comments on La Damnation de Faust to last - purposely. I am not a great fan of it! Regardless how wonderful the individual recording is, my judgement on hearing this piece is always clouded by thoughts of the sheer waste of time Berlioz expended in composing it. Even 161 years after its first performance - it was produced at the Opera-Comique in 1846 - it can only be described as a mosaic of pieces which Berlioz vainly attempted to assemble into something cohesive and comprehensible. He should have given up after the first hurdle in 1828 when he sent Goethe eight Scenes from Faust and received a resounding vote of no-confidence. Shelved for a number of years he returned to it and transformed it into an oratorio and received a lukewarm reception when first performed. Undaunted, he planned to turn it into an opera but problems arose and it has remained in its present form unchanged. The music, vivid as it is, encompasses such a wide range of uncoordinated contrasts - a Hungarian March that suddenly appears for no reason at all, a turbulent tavern encounter, a mad scene, a dream sequence, a musical appreciation of nature - that certain items would seem to have been included purely for the sake of padding and adding colour. Having said all that, this recording is good. The singers are well matched with perhaps Robert Lloyd as Mephistopheles the best of a good bunch. His aria Voici des roses is worth a listen or two.

Despite everything, I feel better for having listened to this compilation. Oh, thank you for asking; yes, my ears are now back to normal! The chorus work in particular is outstanding and the orchestral playing is, in most cases, superb.

I first heard Symphonie Fantastique in the middle 1970s as part of a Reader’s Digest compendium of classical music and have been a fan of Hector Berlioz ever since. This collection of some of his hits is worthy of his stature as a visionary composer.

Randolph Magri-Overend

see also review by Terry Barfoot


Detailed track-listing

CD1
Symphonie fantastique Op. 14
1. Première partie: Rêveries-Passions 15:51
2. Deuxième partie: Un Bal 6:33
3. Troisième partie: Scène aux Champs 16:57
4. Quatrième partie: Marche au Supplice 6:51
5. Cinquième partie: Songe d'une Nuit du Sabbat 9:53
CD2
Harold en Italie Op. 16
Symphonie en 4 parties avec un alto principal
1. Harold aux montagnes. Scènes de mélancolie, de bonheur, et de joie 15:10
2. Marche de pèlerins chantant la prière du soir 6:45
3. Sérénade d'un montagnard des Abruzzes à sa maîtresse 5:54
4. Orgie des brigands. Souvenirs des scènes precedents 12:33
CD3
La Damnation de Faust
Légende dramatique en 4 parties
PART 1
1. Scène 1: Plaines de Hongrie 5:25
2. Scène 2: Rondo de paysans 3:30
3. Scène 3: Une autre partie de la plaine 0:49
4. Marche hongroise 4:31
PART 2
5. Scène 4: Nord de l'Allemagne 4:39
6. Chant de la Fête de Pâque 7:04
7. Scène 5: Allegro moderato (O pure émotion!) 2:21
8. Scène 6: La cave d'Auerbach à Leipzig 0:27
9. Choeur de buveurs 2:26
10. Chanson de Brander 2:10
11. Fugue sur le thème de la chanson de Brander
2:41
12. Chanson de Méphistophélès 3:48
13. Scène 7: Bosquets et Prairies du Bord de l'Elbe-Air de Méphistophélès 2:21
14. Choeur de gnomes et de sylphes-Songe de Faust 6:16
15. Ballet des sylphes 3:46
16. Scène 8: Final- Choeur d'étudiants et de soldats marchant vers la ville 5:37
CD4
La Damnation de Faust
Légende dramatique en 4 parties
PART 3
1. Scène 9: Tambours et trompettes sonnant la retraite 1:09
2. Air de Faust 5:04
3. Scène 10: Moderato (Je l'entends!) 1:05
4. Scène 11: Allegretto non troppo presto e dolce (J'ai peur comme une enfant) 3:23
5. Le roi de Thulé, chanson gothique 5:18
6. Scène 12: Évo 1:56
7. Menuet des follets 6:20
8. Sérénade de Méphistophélès 2:19
9. Scène 13: Final: Duo 5:48
10. Scène 14: Trio et Choeur 4:59
PART 4
11. Scène 15: Romance 10:34
12. Scène 16: Invocation à la nature 3:36
13. Scène 17: Récitatif et chasse 3:18
14. Scène 18: La course à l'abîme 3:32
15. Scène 19: Pandaemonium 4:30
16. Épilogue: Sur la terre 1:20
17. Dans le ciel 1:05
18. Apothéose de Marguerite 3:44
CD5
Roméo et Juliette - Symphonie dramatique Op. 17
Text by Émile Deschamps after Shakespeare
I. Introduction: Combats. Tumulte. Intervention du Prince (Introduction: Combats. Tumult. Intervention of the Prince)
1. Allegro fugato 4:53
2. Prologue 5:11
3. Strophes 6:33
4. Scherzetto 3:10
II. Roméo seul. Tristesse. Bruits lointains de concert et de bal. Grand fête chez Capulet. (Romeo alone. Sadness. Music and dancing. Festivities at the Capulets)
5. Andante malinconico e sostenuto (Roméo seul) 1:29
6. Tristesse 2:56
7. Allegro (Bruits lointains de concert et de bal) 1:49
8. Grand fête chez Capulet 6:20
III. Nuit sereine. Le jardin du Capulet, silencieux et désert. Les jeunes Capulets, sortant de la fête, passent en chantant de réminiscenses de la musique du bal. Scène d'amour.
(Night. The Capulet's garden, peaceful and deserted. The young Capulets pass on their way home, singing snatches of the music of the bal. Love scene)
9. Allegretto 3:14
10. Adagio (Scène d'amour) 14:45
CD6
Roméo et Juliette Symphonie dramatique Op. 17
Text by Émile Deschamps after Shakespeare
1. IV. La Reine Mab, ou la fée des songes. Scherzo 9:02
2. V. Convoi funèbre de Juliette 9:09
VI. Roméo au tombeau des Capulets. Invocation. Réveil de Juliette. Joi délilante, désespoir, dernières angoisses et mort des deux amants.
3. Allegro agitato e disperato, con moto (Roméo au tombeau des Capulets) 1:17
4. Largo (Invocation) 2:41
5. Réveil de Juliette 1:23
6. Allegro vivace ed appassionato assai (Joie délilante)
0:55
7. Désespoir, dernières angoisses et mort des deux amants 1:32
VII. Finale
8. La Foule accourt au cimetière. Rixe des Capulets, et des Montagus 1:36
Récitatif et Air du Père Laurence
9. Récitatif 3:06
10. Air du Père Laurence 8:57
11. Sermet de reconciliation 4:44
CD7
L'Enfance du Christ / The Childhood of Christ
Trilogie sacrée, Op. 25 - Text by Hector Berlioz
Première Partie: Le Songe d'Hérode
1. Dans la crèche, en ce temps, Jésus venait de naître (Récitant) 1:43
Scène I: Une rue de Jérusalem. Un corps de garde. Soldats romains faisant une ronde de nuit.
2. Marche nocturne 7:24
Scène II: Intérieur du palais d'Hérode
3. Air d'Hérode 7:43
Scène III: Hérode, Plydorus (Récit.)
4. Seigneur! 0:51
Scène IV: Hérode, les Devins (Récit.)
5. Les sages de Judée 3:31
6. Les Devins font des évolutions cabalistique et procèdent à la conjuration 1:26
7. La voix dit vrai, Seigneur 1:32
8. Eh bien...eh bien...par le fer qu'ils périssent 2:28
Scène V: Etable de Béthléem
9. Duo: O mon cher fils 7:49
Scène VI: Les Anges invisibles, Sainte Marie, Saint Joseph
10. Lento avec solennité; Joseph! Marie! Écoutez-nous 4:37
CD8
L'Enfance du Christ / The Childhood of Christ
Trilogie sacrée, Op. 25 - Text by Hector Berlioz
DEUXIÈME PARTIE: La Fuite en Egypte
1. Ouverture 6:16
2. Adieux des Bergers à la Sainte Famille 3:02
3. Le Répos de la Sainte Famille 5:13
TROISIÈME PARTIE: L'Arrivée à Saïs
4. Allegro non troppo (Récitant): Depuis trois jours 3:24
Scène I: L'Intérieur de la ville de Saïs (Ste Marie, Ste Joseph, Choeurs de romains et d'Egyptiens)
5. Dans cette ville immense... 5:20
Scène II: L'Intérieur de la maison des Ismaélites
6. Un peu moins vite (Père de Famille): Entrez, entrez... 7:26
7. Trio pour deux flútes et harpe, exécuté par les jeunes Ismaélites 6:03
8. Récit. & Air, Père de Famille et Choeur 4:47
Scène III: Epilogue
9. Lento (Récitant, Choeur) 10:01
CD9
Te Deum, Op. 22
1. Te Deum 6:38
2. Tibi omnes 8:01
3. Prélude 2:20
4. Dignare 5:55
5. Christe, Rex gloriae 4:42
6. Te ergo quaesumus 6:58
7. Judex crederis 8:38
Appendix
8. Marche pour la présentation des drapeaux 4:19
CD10
Requiem - Grande Messe des Morts, Op. 5
1. Requiem & Kyrie, Introït 11:01
(Requiem aeternam; Te decet hymnus; Kyrie eleison)
2. Dies Irae 5:15
(Dies Irae; Animez un peu; D minor)
3. Tuba mirum 6:21
(1. Andante maestoso; Tuba mirum; Mors stupebit; Liber spiritus; Judex ergo)
4. Quid sum miser 3:10
5. Rex tremendae 5:39
(Rex tremendae; Qui salvandos; Rex tremendae; Confutatis; Andante maestoso)
6. Quaerens me 5:27
7. Lacrimosa 9:29
CD11
Requiem - Grande Messe des Morts, Op. 5
1. Offertoire 9:05
(Domine Jesu Christe; Et sanctus Michael)
2. Hostias 3:26
3. Sanctus 10:26
(Sanctus (tenor solo); Hosanna (Fuga); Sanctus (tenor solo); Hosanna (Fuga))
4. Agnus Dei 12:30

 


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