Berlioz: La mort de Cléopâtre; Herminie; Béatrice et Bénédict Overture; Le roi Lear Overture

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Berlioz
LABELS: ASV
WORKS: La mort de Cléopâtre; Herminie; Béatrice et Bénédict Overture; Le roi Lear Overture
PERFORMER: Rosalind Plowright (soprano)Philharmonia Orchestra/Jean-Philippe Rouchon
CATALOGUE NO: CD DCA 895 DDD
Two early cantatas sit oddly among Berlioz’s nearest approach to the symphonic poem in Le roi Lear and the brilliantly comic overture to his last work, Béatrice et Bénédict; but despite the occasional conventionalities in the cantatas, the programme is a feast of characteristic music. Unfortunately the recordings lack sharpness of focus; the resonance, suspiciously artificial, overlays an essentially lively rhythmic approach, unfortunately not matched by attention to dynamics (in Béatrice et Bénédict I was tempted to wonder if Rouchon knows what pianissimo means). The overtures, while not actually particularly slow, sound laboured and King Lear is even coarse. Plowright is an experienced dramatic soprano entirely suitable for the music, but she is sometimes nearly buried in orchestral sound. Her Cléopâtre has fine points but is unlikely to displace those of Jessye Norman or Janet Baker. I believe only Baker has previously recorded Herminie, a piece equally redolent of later Berlioz. Several passages are based on what became the idée fixe from the Symphonie fantastique, but the singer’s moments of indecisive intonation and the poor balance cannot extinguish passages of extraordinary imaginative fire. Julian Rushton

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