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Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
Roméo et Juliette Op.17 (1839) [92.19]
Marche troyenne (1864) [5.28]
Chasse royale et orage (1857) [9.44]
Michèle Losier (mezzo), Samuel Boden (tenor), David Soar (bass)
BBC Symphony Chorus
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sir Andrew Davis
rec. 17 May 2015 (Chasse royale), 25-25 January 2016 (other works), Fairfield Halls, Croydon.
Reviewed in surround
CHANDOS CHSA5169 SACD [57:42 + 49:49]

Sometimes it would be nice to simply say "Wow! Buy this!" But readers might see that as too concise a recommendation. This make the sixth recording of Berlioz’s great Dramatic Symphony in my collection; the competition being: Davis (on LSO Live), Inbal, Muti, Ozawa and Toscanini. I learned the piece with Toscanini’s incandescent reading and grew to love the work helped by Seiji Ozawa and the Boston orchestra. The latter has really been my benchmark as a result. The only other performance I remember making me sit up and pay attention was the relay from the Proms 2016 of Eliot Gardiner's ORR performance, which set a fire under the piece that I'll never forget. I do wish the BBC would allow us easy access to the 4.0 surround recording that they made that night, free of all presenter babble and in the best quality they can broadcast. Sadly this, along with all the other Proms this year, is in some archive possibly never to see the light of day. Why is this?

To return to the Chandos recording being reviewed. This may not burn with quite the white heat of Toscanini or Eliot Gardiner, or even Ozawa at times, but it has a passion and grandeur that places it high on the list of the finest on disc, and since it is the first I’ve heard on SACD 5.0 surround, it gets more points for the sound quality too. Sir Andrew Davis drives this magnificent music with tight rhythmic control and tremendous energy, something one doesn’t always associate with this self-effacing musician. The French Canadian mezzo Michèle Losier sings beautifully and accurately, and of course her French is perfect. She seems tireless in the extensive narrative passages and really is a joy to hear. Samuel Boden is a strong and even-voiced singer with as good a command of the language as one could wish. He seems to spend a lot of time working with French ensembles so perhaps that is why he sounds so at ease with the language. David Soar puts in as good a performance as Friar Laurence as I can remember, imposing and reproachful by turns. The BBC Chorus are their normal excellent selves and the BBCSO demonstrate once again that they can match any orchestra in the world. The brass get plenty of opportunity to show their worth in the two makeweight items. “Makeweight!” That is no way to describe these famous extracts from The Trojans. They may be tacked on after the main work, on Disc 2, but they deserve hearing separately and being given full attention. The entry of the chorus in the ‘Royal Hunt and Storm’ is absolutely thrilling.

It has taken a lifetime of listening to get to grips with The Trojans, but Romeo and Juliet still just tops my list of favourite works by the great French master. This new issue from Chandos, magnificently recorded in the excellent acoustic of the Fairfield Halls Concert Hall, should be considered for purchase no matter how many recordings one already possesses. The booklet includes well written essays and a full parallel translation of the text, plus a nice reproduction of Dicksee’s eponymous painting.

Dave Billinge



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