Hector BERLIOZ(1803-1869) Harold en Italie, Op. 16 [39:10] Les Nuits d’Été, Op. 7 [28:31] Le Roi de Thulé (La Damnation de Faust, Op. 24)
Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo); Antoine Tamestit (viola)
Les Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble/Marc Minkowski
rec. April 2011, Opéra Royal de Versailles, France
French texts, English and German translations included
NAÏVE V 5266 [73:04]
Several of Berlioz’s works have been recorded using period instruments,
among them the Symphonie Fantastique and the Grande
Messe des Morts. However, I can’t readily recall many period
performances of Harold en Italie. Sir John Eliot Gardiner
made a very fine recording with his Orchestre Révolutionnaire
et Romantique and violist Gérard Caussé for Philips but that
was way back in 1994 and I’m not sure that it’s currently available.
So Marc Minkowski and Les Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble seem
to have the field pretty much to themselves.
I’m happy to be able to report to anyone wanting a version of
this work on period instruments that this new recording should
more than meet their needs. Minkowski conducts with flair and
his orchestra is excellent. Berlioz was one of music’s most
innovative orchestrators and period instruments can bring out
the tangy, original colours of his scoring exceptionally well.
It’s a joy to hear the orchestral score in a performance of
this quality; and that’s an observation that applies to the
other music on the disc as well.
Right from the start of Harold the grainy strings and
slightly rasping brass are a delight. When the solo viola enters
(track 1, 2:59) the husky tone is beautifully set against the
pastel shades of the accompaniment, chiefly the gently rippling
harp and cooing clarinets. Hereabouts, Antoine Tamestit, a splendid
soloist, conveys the melancholy air of Harold very well indeed.
Later in the movement Minkowski whips up the music excitingly.
Though I’m a great Berlioz fan I have to admit that the second
movement doesn’t seem to me to be one of his most interesting
movements. Moreover, the viola part is so uneventful that it’s
not hard to see why Paganini, having commissioned the work,
wasn’t interested in playing it – though, to his great credit
he not only expressed admiration for the piece when he heard
it performed but also paid Berlioz the agreed fee.
In the third movement Minkowski ensures that the music lilts
most persuasively. There’s an excellent and entirely appropriate
rustic feel in this performance. There’s tremendous drive and
spirit in the finale. Minkowski and his orchestra dispatch the
Orgy of Brigands with gusto and élan. Here, as elsewhere
in the score, the primary colours of Berlioz’s score are brought
to life vividly. I think it helps that the recording is quite
close – though by no means oppressively so – and this, plus
the transparency of the period instruments, means that a welcome
amount of detail registers.
Les Nuits d’Été is equally successful. Anne Sofie von
Otter is a singer I admire very much though sometimes she can
seem a little cool. That’s not the case here. For example, she
offers some ardent singing in ‘Sur les lagunes’. This is a darkly
passionate setting and Miss von Otter really communicates expressive
grief. By contrast, in the opening song, ‘Villanelle’, we hear
her at her most engaging in a light, eager rendition of the
song. In ‘Absence’ her control in the refrain ‘Reviens, reviens,
ma bien-aimée’ is wonderful – as is that of the supporting players.
She and Minkowski combine to invest ‘L’Île inconnue’ with a
surge of buoyant energy. This delightful, happy reading is a
fine end to an excellent account of the cycle. Once again the
orchestra more than plays its part in the success of the performance.
The lively tempo and alert playing in ‘Villanelle’ is a delight
– especially the chattering woodwinds. At the start of ‘Le Spectre
de la rose’ the grainy strings under the unison flute and clarinet
provide a lovely mixture of timbres, supporting the singer’s
poised delivery of a beautiful, sustained
line. The nutty orchestral timbres are an important feature
in ‘Sur les lagunes’.
Finally, to complete our pleasure, Miss von Otter and Antoine
Tamestit come together to give a fine performance of ‘Le Roi
de Thulé’. Here the plangent viola tone is a perfect foil for
von Otter’s gently wistful singing.
This is a very fine disc and also a fascinating one which I
urge all Berlioz admirers to hear. Not only are the performances
extremely good but also the production values are high. This
applies to the recorded sound, which, as I’ve already indicated,
is good. Even more does it apply to the sumptuous booklet which
is beautifully illustrated. The booklet also includes, in addition
to a useful note, an extract from Berlioz’s Memoirs
concerning Harold en Italie.
This is one of the most stimulating Berlioz releases that I’ve
heard in recent years.
from previous months Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the
discs reviewed. details We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to
which you refer.