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Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
Harty and Monteux conduct Berlioz

rec. 1927-35
PRISTINE AUDIO PASC551 [2 CDs: 148:25]

The 1870s were blessed with the birth of some of the Great Berlioz Conductors. Beecham, Harty and Monteux come memorably to mind and it’s the latter two that are represented in this twofer.

I think by common consent Monteux’s 1930 Symphonie fantastique recording with the Orchestre Symphonique de Paris is the most expressively convincing and interpretatively insightful of the five recordings he left in all – though obviously for most listeners (but not for me) sonic considerations rule it out of court. He had been principal violist of Éduard Colonne’s orchestra before the turn of the century and the older man had known Berlioz. I believe Monteux followed Colonne’s own markings, used during the annual cycles of Berlioz’s music that Colonne had given over many years. Though this has been transferred multiply, fine sounding American Victors have been used and the results are excellent. The remainder of Monteux’s Paris 78rpm legacy here – his tally of Berlioz on commercial disc was actually surprisingly small - includes the Prelude to Act 3 of The Trojans and the overture to Benvenuto Cellini, recorded at the same sessions.

I’m sure I’m not alone in hoping against hope that an off-air recording might have survived of Harty conducting Harold in Italy with Lionel Tertis. Not even Koussevitzy-Primrose, or Beecham-Primrose quite effaces thoughts of what that master of tonal opulence must have brought to the work. Harty’s own studio recordings were of a bits-and-pieces nature, in the main, a consequence of the difficulty of making large-scale Berlioz recordings before the emergence of LP. It’s a shame that between the sets of Rhené-Baton, Frieder Weissmann, and Oskar Fried (two different recordings) and the set by Monteux, English Columbia didn’t invite Harty to make his own recording of the Symphonie fantastique – unless they thought the existence of the 1926 Fried on Polydor was too much competition given the length of the work. In any case most of the Harty recordings have been reissued – the largest tranche by Pearl, but others by Dutton and Symposium and Beulah. However, Pearl didn’t reissue the King Lear overture which makes Pristine’s twofer the first time Harty’s Berlioz recordings have been reissued in full in one place.

Harty used his own Halle, Beecham’s LPO and the LSO for his sequence of discs. The expressive pointing of which he was so excellent an exponent is audible throughout – he surely luxuriated in Leon Goossens’ playing in Romeo’s Reverie and Fête of the Capulets – as he would have done the warm, plaint strings of the LPO. With the Halle one notices that familiar use of pervasive portamento – one of the last major orchestras on disc to employ this device so fervently – and it is inherent to the expressive conception of the music in the case, especially, of the Dance of the Sylphs. The very obvious difference in approach to wind vibrato is strikingly evident as one switches from the LPO to the Halle and to a lesser extent the two LSO examples. Harty is not invariably a rapier thrusted Berliozan; his Corsair overture is almost a minute slower than the later, familiar recordings by Beecham and Munch; the Funeral March for the last scene of Hamlet is justly noble and beautifully conceived from start to finish. Retention of some surface noise throughout these transfers allows one to focus on the refinement of phrasing and pointing in this elevated sequence of recordings.

Whilst one can rue what is missing from the early Berlioz discography one should not overlook what has long been established on disc. These excellently transferred, well-pitched examples continue to nourish the discography.

Jonathan Woolf
1. Beatrice and Benedict – Overture (7:45)
Recorded 2 November 1934 in Abbey Road Studio No. 1, London
2 Romeo’s Reverie and Fête of the Capulets (from Romeo and Juliet, Op. 17) (11:29)
Léon Goossens (solo oboe)
Recorded 5 September 1933 in Abbey Road Studio No. 1, London
3. Queen Mab Scherzo (from Romeo and Juliet, Op. 17) (7:26)
Recorded 2 May 1927 in Free Trade Hall, Manchester
4. Dance of the Sylphs (from The Damnation of Faust, Op. 24) (2:52)
Recorded 2 May 1927 in Free Trade Hall, Manchester
5. Hungarian March (from The Damnation of Faust, Op. 24) (3:51)
Recorded 2 May 1927 in Free Trade Hall, Manchester
6. Royal Hunt and Storm (from Les Troyens) (9:45)
Recorded 10 April 1931 in Central Hall, Westminster, London
7. The Corsair – Overture, Op. 21 (8:43)
Recorded 2 November 1934 in Abbey Road Studio No. 1, London
8. Funeral March for the Last Scene of Hamlet (No. 3 from Tristia, Op. 18) (8:02)
Recorded 18 April 1935 in Abbey Road Studio No. 1, London
9. Roman Carnival Overture, Op. 9 (8:58)
Recorded 12 February 1932 in Central Hall, Westminster, London
London Philharmonic Orchestra (Tracks 1, 2, 7 & 8)/Sir Hamilton Harty
Hallé Orchestra (Tracks 3 – 6 & 9)/Sir Hamilton Harty

CD 2
1. King Lear – Overture, Op. 4 (11:43)
Recorded 15/16 October 1935 in Thames Street Studio, London
2. Marche Troyenne (from Les Troyens) (4:00)
Recorded 16 October 1935 in Thames Street Studio, London
London Symphony Orchestra/Hamilton Harty
3. Les Troyens – Prelude to Act 3 (4:09)
Recorded 31 January 1930 in the Salle Pleyel, Paris
4. Benvenuto Cellini – Overture, Op. 23 (10:44)
Recorded 30 January 1930 in the Salle Pleyel, Paris
Symphonie Fantastique, Op. 14
5. 1st Mvt.: Rêveries – Passions (13:04)
6. 2nd Mvt.: Un bal (5:56)
7. 3rd Mvt.: Scène aux champs (16:10)
8. 4th Mvt.: Marche au supplice (4:41)
9. 5th Mvt.: Songe d’une nuit de sabbat (9:07)
Recorded 20, 23 & 27 – 29 January and 3 February 1930 in the Salle Pleyel, Paris
Orchestre Symphonique de Paris/Pierre Monteux

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