Good Boxed Berlioz....especially for the price
Christopher Forbes | Brooklyn,, NY | 09/02/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is a banner year for Berlioz fanatics. The Bicentennial of the composer's birth is brings new performances of his work out of mothballs. There hasn't been such a buzz about the composer since the late 60s Berlioz "revival" led by Colin Davis. Even the Metropolitan Opera is getting in on the act...with a new production of Les Troyens last season and the Met premiere of Benvenuto Cellini later this season. For those of us who love the composer, this is the best news possible. As part of this Bicentennial celebration, Brilliant Classics has re-released recordings of most of the major non-operatic Berlioz pieces as recorded by Eliahu Inbal and the Radio Symphony of Frankfurt. These are good solid performances...not innovative or groundbreaking. But at the boxed set price, you can't beat them. It's a laughably cheap way to collect so many great works by this French master.The CD includes good solid performances of Berlioz staples, Symphonie Fantastique and Harold in Italy. Inbal emphasizes Berlioz' energy and almost classical sense of balance. This is not a Symphony Fantastique to wow you with it's sonic brilliance, but it is a good solid reading of the work. Likewise, the Harold is beautifully played, if not overly exciting. In Inbal's hands Berlioz' instrumental works resemble nothing so much as Mendelsohn, a comparison that I don't believe is as far fetched as it may at first sound. The CD also includes most of the composer's other large works. The Romeo and Juliet is beautiful. The singers, while not first rate, are more than up to the job and the interpretation is well balanced between surging romanticism and classical formalism. Inbal gets just the right tension here in this work. You can hear the future traces of Wagner in the work, and yet it is not so very far from it's Beethovenian roots. The Damnation of Faust is also a solid performance, and if I don't like it quite as much as the Colin Davis version, it is mostly because of the lesser quality of the singing. Try as he might, Denys Guylas just can't match Nicolai Gedda in tone, lyricism and sheer ecstasy. The bos includes a charming rendition of Berlioz' most charming work, L'Enfance du Christ. This piece is light, lyrical, and should be more of a Christmas staple than it is. The set is also rounded out by a good reading of the Berlioz Requiem and a brilliant reading of the Te Deum. None of the performances here could be considered classic or definitive, but they are all good. There is not a bad not or a noticeably weak singer in the set, balances are well maintained in the orchestra and the orchestral sound, particularly of the strings, is quite seductive. The main advantage of this collection is price. This set is particularly recommended to those who don't have much of this repertoire in their collections. Never has so much high quality Berlioz been available to so many for so few. Do yourself a favor and celebrate this marvelous composer's Bicentennial with this boxed set. And while you are at it, pick up the Colin Davis boxed set of the operas on Phillips....again, for about 60 dollars, you can own definitive performances of Benvenuto Cellini, Beatrice and Benedict AND Les Troyens. With both CDs you can listen to Berlioz until you can stand it no more....which in my own case, is a long, LONG time."