Berlioz: Les Nuits d'éte

Album title:
Les Nuits d'éte
Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo-soprano), Antoine Tamestit (viola); Les Musiciens du Louvre, Grenoble/Marc Minkowski
Catalogue Number:
V 5266
BBC Music Magazine
Berlioz: Les Nuits d'éte
Walton: Belshazzar's Feast; Symphony No. 1
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Marc Minkowski has already established himself as a vivid Berlioz interpreter, and his new recording looks afresh at very different aspects of the composer’s musical character.

Harold in Italy, commissioned (and rejected) by Paganini, is highly personal even for Berlioz. It’s based on Byron’s alienated wanderer Childe Harold, but also reflects the composer’s own youthful forays through the Italian hills in search of game and willing girls. Minkowski gives an energetic, crisp, emphatic reading. The sinewy sound of the Louvre players’ period instruments, though, lends it a rougher, almost folkier texture, against which the viola’s individual voice stands out more sharply than usual, with creepy resinous bowings in the March of the Pilgrims, for example.

Like Paganini, Antoine Tamestit plays a Stradivarius viola, with virtuosity to match rivals like Yehudi Menuhin or Nobuku Imai for Sir Colin Davis, or Thomas Beecham’s Frederick Riddle.

Minkowski and the players find a smoother, more atmospheric sound for Les nuits d’été, hues to match the shifting moods of Théophile Gautier’s poems, from fresh and amorous to eerie nostalgia. Anne Sofie von Otter, less bright than in her previous recording, has gained depth of feeling and soaring, plangent tone to become a worthy match for Janet Baker and Régine Crespin, from passionate resignation in ‘Spectre de la rose’ to ghostly mezza voce against the woodwinds in ‘Au cimetière’. The closing ‘Le Roi de Thulé’ finds her more reflective than pathetic.

Michael Scott Rohan