I began listening to this compilation with a completely open
mind, but soon found myself bemused by why anyone would bother
to assemble such a lifeless, mediocre medley of Berlioz performances
when there are so many great ones to be found in the catalogue.
The main fault lies with Barenboim's conducting. He has done
Berlioz proud elsewhere, but here seems to have no idea what
to do with the two great works he undertakes: both the "Symphonie
fantastique" and "Roméo et Juliette" are
devoid of the rhythmic élan and vitality which characterise
Berlioz's music; the "Scène d'amour" in the
latter, in particular, is utterly without erotic tension and
the "Marche au supplice" in the symphony limps along
aimlessly. It is not a question of timings; comparison with Bernstein
reveals little difference there. The problem is more in the lack
of feeling for the phrasing required. Barenboim frequently engineers
apparently random rallentandi or sudden changes in dynamics without
any apparent expressive justification and the results are painfully
Turning to Bernstein, one is thrilled by a sense
of recognition and rightness; that's how the music should go.
In Ozawa's lovely account of the "Roméo", the
music ebbs and surges just as Barenboim's doesn't; nor are the
Orchestre de Paris any match for Bernstein's Orchestre National
de France or Ozawa's Boston Symphony Orchestra - although again,
I suspect that has more to do with Barenboim's lacklustre direction.
The recording quality does not help; it is muffled, boomy and
lacking definition; the sound picture remains confused and muddied.
Things improve in Maazel's account of "Harold en Italie" but
Wolfram Christ is a bland, retiring soloist compared with classic
accounts such as that by Joseph de Pasquale and Ormandy (or even
the classic 1955 mono recording with Hans Kirchner under Markevitch)
and, once more, the recording quality is superior in that bargain
Sony disc. To compound the general weakness of this three disc
set, the listings absurdly credit Christa Ludwig as well as the
excellent Yvonne Minton as taking part in the performance of
the "Roméo", but of course there is room for
only one lower female voice, and that is Minton. (You can indeed
hear Ludwig's lovely version of this music on Maazel's account
on Decca, alongside Ghiaurov and Michel Sénéchal
- a superb set which is still unaccountably unavailable on CD.)
Minton is the best of the soloists; Araiza is nimble but not
especially ingratiating of tone and Jules Bastin, while idiomatic
and expressive, does not have the weight of voice the part needs,
such as brought to it by José van Dam or Robert Lloyd.
You will have gathered by now that I found no real raison
for this issue and wonder what the folks at Universal
Music Australia were thinking of when they cobbled it together.
Every piece here - with the possible exception of the "Rêverie
et caprice" - is surpassed by another version and I doubt
whether many potential buyers are swayed by the endorsement of
that eight minute piece when the remaining three hours and ten
minutes leave so much to be desired.