Tragic Lovers Richard WAGNER (1813-1883) Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde [17:14] Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869) Love Scene from Romeo and Juliet [15:59] Piotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893) Romeo and Juliet - Fantasy Overture [21:10]
rec. 2008. DDD DELOS
Putting together a disc of popular works from the Romantic
repertoire is a risk. Conductor and orchestra have a choice.
They can either give us an unusual and original interpretation
of each work, or else provide uncontroversial yet brilliant
readings. Here, James DePreist and the Oregon Symphony
do neither, although they very nearly pull off the latter
The first track is the main disappointment. Their Prelude
and Liebestod from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde is
played too straight, and the Prelude in particular
lacks any real sense of tension or foreboding. The absence
of the vocal line in the Liebestod exposes some
interesting aspects to Wagner’s orchestration, particularly
the parts for horn and harp, but there is no momentum
in this performance either, and a halting crescendo fails
to lift the final climax off the ground. Both pieces
are also marred by an imbalance in the recording, which
gives the bass strings too much prominence and results
in a fuzzy vibration throughout the disc.
Both orchestra and conductor seem more at home with the Love
Scene from Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliet. The
playing throbs with emotion, and moves from elated romanticism
to more sombre contemplation. Some very fine flute playing
and skilful intertwining of the string lines perfectly
capture Berlioz’s hallmark moods of joy and melancholy.
This performance compares well with Sir Colin Davis’s
classic 1993 live recording of the complete Romeo
and Juliet with the Vienna Philharmonic on Philips.
In that version, the Love Scene is hushed and
reverent and sounds more like an overly respectful homage
to Berlioz than a scene of youthful love-making. The
pace also feels slower - even though both recordings
come in at just under 16 minutes - and the sound is thinner,
with the added distraction of shifting seats in the orchestra
and coughing from the audience.
DePreist and the Oregon Symphony opt for a safe reading of
Tchaikovsky’s Fantasy Overture Romeo and Juliet.
But unlike the Wagner, this is a much more engaging performance.
Rich strings and woodwind create a strong sense of gravitas
in the opening section, and there is real drama and percussive
dazzle in the ‘sword fight’ music which follows. The only
real disappointment is the slowing down of the tempo in
the run-up to the famous love theme. This passage should
be an impatient bit of foreplay, rather than a desultory
fumble. Nevertheless, the love theme itself is beautifully
played, and splendidly overblown in its final recapitulation.
The second round of sword play also clashes with over-the-top
agitation, punctuated by strident brass calls. The final
theme - from Tchaikovsky’s discarded first version of the
overture - suitably ascends the heights of tragedy on soaring
strings until the final timpani roll and biting chords
round off this highly enjoyable recording.
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