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Berlioz: La damnation de Faust / von Stade, Riegel, van Dam, Solti
Hector Berlioz, Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Frederica von Stade
Berlioz: La damnation de Faust / von Stade, Riegel, van Dam, Solti
Genre: Classical
 
  •  Track Listings (18) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (17) - Disc #2

Berlioz's works are so typical of him, and yet so unlike each other, that it's almost impossible to select one as representing "the essential Berlioz." Nonetheless, if the choice has to be made, then The Damnation of Faust...  more »

      
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Amazon.com essential recording
Berlioz's works are so typical of him, and yet so unlike each other, that it's almost impossible to select one as representing "the essential Berlioz." Nonetheless, if the choice has to be made, then The Damnation of Faust would probably be the strongest contender. It has everything: fabulous orchestration, great tunes, tremendous special effects (try the scene in Pandemonium), and most of all--so typical--a great literary basis (Goethe), which Berlioz proceeds to alter with total impunity according to the dictates of his musical inspiration. More specifically, in Goethe's story, Faust gets saved in the end. "Never mind," Berlioz seems to ask. "What would you rather have? Faust redeemed or a really cool scene in Pandemonium?" Solti's performance pushes all the right buttons: it's brilliantly played, urgently exciting, very well sung, and recorded with panache. Great fun. --David Hurwitz
 

CD Reviews

Possibly my favorite recording of anything...ever!
Wayne A. | Belfast, Northern Ireland | 11/30/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Funny how people still equivocate about Berlioz. "Problematic" is a word that regretably (annoyingly) still turns up too frequently in commentaries on his work. Berlioz's music is complex and demanding--difficult to play. His forms are unique, imaginative, and challenging (and by the by, Berlioz wrote these hybrid works--not quite operas or oratorios--simply because he wanted to write operas but was repulsed by the exclusionary politics of the opera world at the time. Think of Berlioz as being as creatively devious in this regard as, say, Shostakovich was in a later idiotic society, or as being prescient--these odd forms work well on the home stereo).

Anywho, history teaches us that often we, the performers, conductors, and listeners, are at fault and not the "problematic" composer. A brilliant composer often needs great performances otherwise nothing seems to hold together properly and we--even those of us smart enough to know better--blame the half-arsed results on compositional incompetence or just bad judgement. Look how badly even Nielsen's astonishing symphonies fair with anything less than white hot interpretations. So, Beethoven was "mad" at the end of his life, Schumann didn't know how to orchestrate, Gluck was a poor composer, Berlioz was inconsistent and downright amateurish, and so on. Strangely, all the major works of these composers are still in the repertoire despite the alleged flaws. Somebody out there must love them without hesitations.

Anyway, this is exactly the performance of "Damnation of Faust" that the ghost of Berlioz deserves. I'm aware of his perfectionism and attention to detail in his own conducting and I'd imagine this would constitute an ideal performance for him. Solti, his orchestra, his chorus, and his soloists treat this as the unqualified masterpiece that it certainly is.

And while I'm at it, to hell with the text! Berlioz gets a lot of flak for not adhering to the original "story" in many of his works. Well, Branagh gave us the whole Hamlet straight up and just as many people seemed to whine about that too. You can't please everybody. Fact is, any adaptation, film, operatic, or otherwise is an attempt to jam 200 pounds of culturally significant excrement into a 10 pound bejeweled bag. Editing is unavoidable and often that editing means changing essentials to suit a new purpose or a different kind of audience. If one wants it exactly the way it was written then go read the book. This is not "Hector Berlioz presents Goethe's Faust" and it was never meant to be. That sort of thing's an affectation for a later and more ridiculous age."
The best there is of this work
09/28/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Of all the recordings of this problematic opera(?), cantata (?), this is still the best. I think a lot of it is due to the intelligent Mephisto of Van Dam and the dramatic reading of Solti. My touchstone is always the mixed chorus of students and soliders that comes in the middle of the work; and here it is almost perfect. I would still prefer an all-French cast--but those days are long since gone. Yes, there is a slight falling off of tension towards the end, but otherwise there is nothing but good to be said about this version."
The Greatest Damnation!
Mark I. Billen | Worcester England | 05/08/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"For me this is the most dramatic, best recorded and most thrilling recording of 'Le Damnation de Faust'. To hell with the opposition! Listen at high volume and be prepared for huge excitement - you'll never be the same again!"