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Hector Berlioz (1803-1869)
Harold in Italy Op.16 (1834) [44:27]
RÍverie et Caprice Op.8 (1841) [8:45]
Yehudi Menuhin (viola; violin)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Colin Davis (Harold); John Pritchard (RÍverie)
rec. Kingsway Hall, 6, 22-23 October 1962 (Harold); Studio No.1, Abbey Road, 24 February 1964 (RÍverie). ADD†
Text included
Experience Classicsonline

Although Sir Colin Davis is renowned for his Berlioz, he has an especial ďlockĒ on Harold in Italy. Both the version here and his later one with the London Symphony Orchestra can be considered near-standards. This is not to mention the more recent one with Tabitha Zimmerman on the London Symphonyís own label. The present Menuhin recording was originally issued in 1962 when discs of this piece were not overly common and it now reappears on the Classics for Pleasure label still in fine fettle.

Those used to the second Davis recording, with Nobuko Imai as soloist, will find some major differences in the Menuhin version. Menuhin is sweeter, especially in the first movement and Davis handles the accompaniment in a meditative manner. He is meditative also, commenting on rather than participating in the proceedings, which is exactly right for the inner program of the work, but causes occasional longeurs. In the second movement soloist and conductor have it exactly right, with perfect balance between Harold and the events around him. Menuhinís playing is very insightful and Davis handles the modulations of the march without letting them lose their force. In the mid-section of the movement there is a slight dropping off of intensity, but the forces pick things up again before the end. 

The serenade movement is even better, although Davis takes the introduction very fast. Once he settles down he gets beautiful playing from the Philharmonia - a reminder of how good they could be at that time. Menuhin is definitely a match for them. This movement is perfect for his style of playing - it enables him to exhibit the entire range of emotions in which he excelled. In fact one would never know that he usually played the violin, not the viola. After the second and third movements the last is something of a let-down. The brass is frequently rough and while Menuhin again adapts his playing style wonderfully to the score, he is frequently overwhelmed by the orchestra. I think this may be more the fault of Kingsway Hall than of the performers. 

The RÍverie et Caprice is actually an 1841 adaptation of material originally intended for the opera Benvenuto Cellini and is the composerís only concerted work beside Harold in Italy. Again Menuhinís performance is a little more sentimental than some but his phrasing is immaculate. The accompaniment by John Pritchard is also exemplary. The major complaint is too close miking of the violin and also some background static. But these are small technical quibbles to make about a recording made over forty years ago. The recording quality in Harold is actually even better, although obviously not as rich we are used to today. If this factor and the total playing time of only fifty-two minutes are not problems then this is a Harold in Italy among the very best.

William Kreindler

Comparative reviews of other versions of Harold in Italy:
Primrose Koussevitsky
Primrose Munch BMG
Primrose Beecham Sony
Inbal Bashmet Denon Brilliant
Riddle Beecham BBC
Riddle Scherchen Tahra



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