First choice for a classic "French" Faust
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 01/12/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I'm thrilled that this exciting, totally idiomatic Damnation of Faust is back. (Amazon doesn't seem to carry the latest pressing, in DG's Originals series, but it's probably worth making sure you get the improved digital remastering.) From the first note of tenor Richard Verreau, one can be secure that perfect French diction is at hand and relish his tangy, nasal Gallic tone, which suffuses solists, chorus, and the Lamoureux orchestra. This isn't the only way to perform Berlioz, but given how homogenized most accounts of Faust are--the excellent Solti set from Chicago (Decca) is as American as, well, Chicago--we are fortunate to have Markevitch's performance as well as Myung-Whun Chung's, also from Paris on DG.
None of this would ocunt for much if Markevitch weren't such a superb Berlioz conductor. Russian as he was, he spent his formative years in the Parisian musical avant-garde and then emerged in the Fifties as the equal to Munch in drama and fervor as a Berliozan (and was far superior in discipline). Has anyone ever scorched through the Rakoczy March like this? None of thee vocal soloists, who include Consuelo Rubio as Marguerite and Michel Roux as the slyest Mephistopheloes, were international stars, but they blend perfectly into this production. In all, a classic reading by a conductor to the manner born."
Once More, Magnificent Markevitch
Michael B. Richman | Portland, Maine USA | 11/16/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Despite his relatively modest output, Berlioz has always been one of my favorite composers, and his Symphonie Fantastique one of my all time favorite works. For years I have enjoyed Markevitch's recording of the Fantastique with the Orchestre des Concerts Lamoureux, and more recently his earlier (and better) mono account with the Berlin Philharmonic (see my review), so selecting his reading of "La Damnation de Faust" seemed to be a no-brainer. Generally, I'm not a huge fan of choral works but both Faust and "Romeo & Juliet" are significant enough compositions for any classical music devotee to own at least one copy. Markevitch's recording of "La Damnation de Faust" was made in 1959, again with Lamoureux, in glorious DG golden-age stereo sound. It is a first rate performance, but the real treat for me was the 1955 Harold in Italy, with Heinz Kirchner as viola soloist. This recording was obviously made by Markevtich with the Berliners as a follow-up to the highly successful aforementioned Fantastique, yielding once more triumphant results despite the mono sound. In all this 2CD set offers breathtaking Berlioz at a refreshingly inexpensive price for an import title."
A wholly authentic, Gallic account
Ralph Moore | Bishop's Stortford, UK | 04/25/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I am grateful to the Santa Fe listener for steering me towards this set. I still like very much Solti's version with the Chicago forces but that is indeed very "American" sounding compared to the utter authenticity of this French performance. Of course, Markevitch was Russian but he was brought up in Paris, spoke French and was completely immersed in the Gallic musical idiom, as other of his recordings prove. Even the Berlin Phil seem to take on a pithier, more pungent sound than that which they produced for Karajan and it is a delight to hear French so cleanly articulated by the chorus and soloists. The Choeur Elisabeth Brasseur - whom I have heard elsewhere only in the famous Fournet "Pearl Fishers" - are wonderfuly unbuttoned: riotous and rambunctious in the tavern scene, the only choir I know who actually sound inebriated, bawling the fugal "Amen" lustily but asssuming the correct martial fervour and precision for the Soldiers' Chorus. I was swept away by this recording from the very first notes: Markevitch has such an unerring instinct for the correct pulse, creating tenderness and élan in equal measure. The stereo sound is excellent for a recording fifty years old; a little treble-biased, yet the double bass pizzicati in the Racoczy March, played with swaggering brilliance, emerge cleanly. Orchestral detail of this kind frequently emerges; the "Ride to the Abyss" is a supercharged experience that is never frenetic but always tension-packed. My only reservations concern the soloists, none of whom is famous today but their style is completely in harmony with Markevitch's vision. In particular, Richard Verreau - who seems to have recorded nothing else - is perfect as Faust, his reedy sound, plangent top and sensitive phrasing quite matching any other tenor on record, including Gedda and Keith Lewis. I prefer a more saturnine demon with more bass in the voice such as José Van Dam, but the baritone Michel Roux phrases and characterises tellingly and he has no trouble with the tessitura of the rôle. Consuelo Rubio is perhaps the least impressive of the three; her timbre is similar to that of her celebrated compatriot Victoria de los Angeles, whereas she is all but forgotten. Hers is a warm, touching assumption even if she is a little anonymous and occasionally stretched.
This is now available, remastered, on DG Originals, but it is expensive so I suggest that you look for a Marketplace copy. There is a wonderful bonus in the 1955 mono "Harold in Italy". The sound is slightly constricted and papery but principal violist Heinz Kirchner plays in immaculate, Romantic style under Markevitch's expert direction."