Any new Berlioz collection has so many others looking over its shoulder, from Thomas Beecham to Alexander Gibson and Colin Davis, that it needs to be quite outstanding. Fortunately this is, and not least for a vivid, large-scale recording that brings out Berlioz’s detail really clearly, of which the excellent Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra players make a great deal. I personally feel that Berlioz’s textures are most truly rendered by instruments of his time, in the brass especially, but the playing here is satisfyingly mellow and vibrant, with warm strings and sturdy woodwind, yet also refreshing and translucent. This is aided by Andrew Davis’s tempos, fairly spacious and unforced but never slack, and now and then sizzling. The massive brass theme at the beginning of Les franc-juges is relished for its sheer sonorous weight, gathering menace only slowly, but as it moves into the insistent ride-to-the-rescue animato, with its offset rhythms, pulsing strings and scattered drumbeats, the tension gathers very satisfactorily. Le carnaval romain sounds slightly less dizzying than usual, but clearer, and its lyrical heart is beautifully brought out. Le roi Lear’s tender moments also gain, but there’s no shortage of swashbuckle in Le corsaire and Benvenuto Cellini. Hugh Macdonald’s sleevenotes complete a welcome release.
Michael Scott Rohan