Berlioz with immaginative variety
R. Lane | Tracy, CA USA | 10/30/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This box makes a nice alternative to the Philips boxes under Colin Davis. Not to take anything away from Davis. His Berlioz cycle certainly ranks up there with the elite for recording achievements. But many will not want to invest in all 3 boxes, so Universal has brought us a great compilation of some of Berlioz' best works from a variety of performers with different styles.
The jewel has to be Ozawa's unsurpassed Romeo and Juliet. This 1976 studio recording had its birth at the Tanglewood Festival and features excellent soloists (Julia Hamari, Jose Van Dam, and Jean Dupouy), a very competent choir, and of course the reliable Boston SO. The recording is of outstanding quality. It seems cleaned up a little from what I remember of the CDs from the mid 80s; much more spacious, less muddy sounding. I especially like the chorus in the hushed night scene.
Barenboim's Damnaton is perdictably Furtwangler-like in tempo, and again features top notch singers in Fischer Dieskau, Jules Bastin, & Placido Domingo; Yvonne Minto is probably not in the same class with the others, but she's more than acceptable.
Levine directs a well recorded and balanced classical-sounding Requiem, and Abbado is more than competent in the Te Deum.
Chung's Fantastique is fun and enjoyable, if not first-class.
The rest of the works are very commendable, if not top-of-the-class.
In short, you can't go wrong for the price, and if you love Berlioz' Romeo, you've got to get this box just for the Ozawa gem."
Better than the Colin Davis sets!
Ryan Kouroukis | Toronto, Ontario Canada | 10/18/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I've had the Colin Davis Berlioz sets for what felt like ages and always tried to get into them but never with much enjoyment...his performances were always tired, bland and dry...and the recorded sound is not up to high stereo standards.
I found this single DG set used which has everything both Davis sets have! (Minus 3 overtures, 2 small song sycles and the grand symphonie funebre et triomphale).
Thia box set is considerably less expensive, the performances are ALL exciting and alive, and the sound quality is extraordinary! I think the songs for voice and single instruments are the most wonderful part of the set, (perhaps worth the set alone!). Ozawa's famous "Romeo and Juliet" is amazing, Barenboim's "Damnation de Faust" is also extremely good. Levine's "Requiem" is powerfully grand and Abbado's "Te Deum" is terribly profound! The only item I have quibs about is Chung's "Fantastique"...I find it too soft and mild, it's more beautiful than it is dramatic.
So not only are you getting pretty well all of Berlioz's early and mature works, (Symphonic, Choral, Vocal and Chamber), fantastic wide-ranging sound quality, and stellar performances and interpretations...but in this DG set you get ALL THE TRANSLATIONS!
The major reason for avoiding the Colin Davis sets is:
You don't get ANY English translations, in ANY of his sets! What's the point then? How can you enjoy them properly?
That's why this is the BEST Berlioz set out there."
A tempting treasury, but only a few performances are great
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 02/03/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Ten discs of Berlioz is a sumptuous offering, and temptingly cheap at Amazon Marketplace. DG has used this occasion to repackage some outstanding performances. At the top of the list goes James Levine's electrifying Requiem from Berlin, with playing and singing to match the conductor's inspiration. Also exciting--perhaps surprisingly so--is Abbado's Te Deum, which has rawer edges and sharper focus than Colin Davis's on Philips, long the standard version.
Dropping down a notch in quality, we have an elegantly played Romeo et Juliette by the Boston Symphony, superbly recorded, that has few rivals for refined virtuosity. But after a while Seiji Ozawa's approach seems to lack depth and meaning; he's skating over the surface of the musical drama, however brilliantly. Sharp and brilliant also describes Myung-Whun Chung's contribution, a Symponie fantastique, two overtures, and the Royal Hunt and Storm from Les Troyens, all with his well-trained Bastille Opera orchestra. Chung is to the manner born in Berlioz, but so are greater conductors in these works, including Munch and Markevitch.
At about the same quality level I'd place the Mort de Cleopatre, a dullish early vocal scene sung with plushness by Jessye Norman, and Kiri Te Kanawa's Les Nuits d'Ete, which is ravishing in terms of sheer vocalism but otherwise vacant. Daniel Barenboim's slack conducting does the piece no favors, either, which holds true on a much larger scale for his Damnation of Faust. This is a typical Barenboim product, full of lush sounds, excellent singing, big-scale orchestral work, but leading to a meager artistic payoff. Barenboim's Faust isn't remotely competitive with Markevitch, Chung, Solti, Pretre, and others in this work. It's great to hear Domingo in the title role, but the conducting is so routine that I'm not sure the overall experience is worth it.
We get odds and ends of varying quality: the rarely recorded Tristia done superbly by Boulez, an uneven batch of songs that previously appeared in their own double-CD set (a chore to listen to in its entirety, despite the occasional gem), and a pedestrain Harold in Italy conducted by Lorin Maazel in Berlin, a performance that DG surely could have bettered by looking deeper into their vaults.
In all, I can't see investing in such an uneven collection except at super-budget price. If you do a little searching, all the best things here can be gotten separately, and the lesser recordings pale by comparison with classic Berlioz from Colin Davis, Charles Munch, and Igor Markevitch."