philvscott | Marrickville, New South Wales Australia | 12/30/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Berlioz is thought of as the most "over the top" of the early Romantics, and this generally accepted view of him sometimes leads conductors into a frenzy of heart-on-sleeve emoting when they tackle his music. I've always thought Munch guilty of this, though undeniably exciting. But Berlioz was something else too: he was a revolutionary in technical matters of orchestration and the "layout" of sound, and it is this quality which the clinical, analytical Pierre Boulez emphasizes. Boulez is peerless, in my opinion (with any composer) when it comes to revealing everything that's in the score- reminding us what is there, rather than what it might possibly signify. The great Cleveland Orchestra are with him all the way in this pure, beautifully recorded version of the Romeo and Juliet symphony. The first CD (up to and including the Queen Mab scherzo) is sheer delight. The remaining movements on CD2 sound as lovely, but there is no denying the music is less interesting; it's an uneven work. The great song cycle Les Nuits d'ete is well sung, particularly by soprano Melanie Diener and tenor Kenneth Tarver, but the competition here is strong. I prefer Crespin, Baker and Veronique Gens. I also prefer Anne Sophie von Otter in Levine's ten year old version of Romeo and Juliet (also DG). But my main point remains valid. Boulez washes out your ears, so to speak, and is worth hearing for that reason alone. The same thing is true of his Cleveland recording of the Symphonie Fantastique, another work which can accumulate a layer of interpretive debris. Of course, it depends on your mood: sometimes a [...]-beating performance is just the thing. There are many ways to approach this wonderful music."
Just not quite there
Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 01/18/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Odd. We have come to expect insightful precision and clarity of vision from Pierre Boulez who is one of our most important conductors today. And the Cleveland Orchestra is certainly the right 'instrument' of quality to give Boulez what he requires. Though there are many memorable passages in this recording of the full ROMEO ET JULIETTE of Hector Berlioz they overall effect after listening to these two discs is not one of rapture. Berlioz' score is itself indefinable: it is not an oratorio (though he does use voices both alone and with chorus), it is not an opera, it is not a symphony. Perhaps an extended tone poem describes it best. But no matter the category, this work is a splendid piece of transcendent beauty. Berlioz used all his gifts in recreating the most popular love sotry of all. The work calls for a very large orchestra and one that has the ability to play tutti and in solo form throughout.Boulez focuses on dexterity here: the rapid sections are fast to the point of blitzkrieg blurring - were it not for the brilliance of the orchestra at hand. One longs for the quiet moments and the extended rapture of the celli singing Romeo's love pledge, for example. Having just absorbed a performance by Esa-Pekka Salonen and the LA Phil it is perhaps unfair to compare, but Salonen uses Boulez-type clarity and still manages to suffuse the intensity of the drama at all times. Another unfair comparison is Boulez' choice of Melanie Diener versus Salonen's choice of Anne Sofie von Otter to sing the Strophies. This Romeo et Juliette is coupled (as in the LA Phil performance) with the exquisite LES NUITS D'ETE, and here again is a comparison of Diener with von Otter, with the latter essentially owning this cycle.Overall a well played and well recorded ROMEO, but if the wonderfully eccentric passion of Berlioz is what you expect then let's hope Salonen opts to add his vision to the recorded repetoire. Not Boulez' best conducting here."
Lovely, once you are in sympathy with Boulez
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 02/23/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"After initially listening to Boulez'a set of Romeo and Juliet, I put it on the discard pile, stubbornly resisting Boulez's anti-romantic bent. But I took a second listen recently, and as often happens with his conducting, once I adjusted my expectations and entered Boulez'a world, I found many satisfying things. The Cleveland Orch. plays with great delicacy and tenderness, perhaps more than any other ensemble I've heard in this work. The excelent Cleveland chorus sings intimately, as if they are in hushed anticipation of early love and early tragedy.
The vocal soloists are also encouraged to be more low key than one usually hears, and the surging Love Scene, in keeping with the rest of Boulez's reading, is played for its melting tenderness. I sitll know why I resisted such restraint the first time around, but with different ears I was drawn in by Boulez's clarity and finesse, qualities we don't often get in Berlioz performances. DG's recorded sound is ultra-clear, but it has that irritating quality of being too loud and too soft at the same time--it was impossible to find aa single volume level that accommodated both extremes. IN sum, a fascinating account for Boulrz admirer and anyone else in search of a fresh approach to this captivating masterpiece."
Boulez and Berlioz
Samuel Stephens | TN, USA | 08/28/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This isn't your usual traversal: it has that Boulez touch...clarity.
This recording concentrates not on being silky, seductive, or "more passionate than anyone else!"...it concentrates on being a well thought out interpretation. You might not appreciate this attitude for this particular composer, but there it is. And it works well.
If you stumble upon this recording, and you haven't heard the Romeo et Juliette symphony by Berlioz before, I assure you that there is nothing that will make you dislike this disc. It is thoroughly enjoyable."