Berlioz: Harold en Italie; La mort de Cléopâtre

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WORKS: Harold en Italie; La mort de Cléopâtre
PERFORMER: Antoine Tamestit (viola), Karen Cargill (mezzo-soprano); LSO/Valery Gergiev


This Harold in Italy takes a while to get going – it’s not until the allegro, almost halfway through the first movement, that the music generates much excitement. Valery Gergiev’s pacing of the opening is even-footed, but careful in its use of dynamics, and Antoine Tamestit’s entry, rather than ruminative and inward, sounds to me reticent and unsure. Gergiev pushes the tempo on slightly in the second movement’s March of the Pilgrims, compromising its processional character. Still, he brings out details in the score, and the third movement Serenade finds both him and Tamestit more characterful, with greater engagement with dynamics and phrasing. That the opening of the finale’s Brigands Orgy doesn’t take off with the fire and dynamism inherent in the score is mainly because of the somewhat distant recording: even turning up the level can’t make the music any more present. It does seem strange for LSO Live to release this recording when that same label already has one from that great Berlioz expert Colin Davis, with Tabea Zimmermann as a more integrated soloist, and a better take on the Barbican acoustic.

In La mort de Cléopâtre, Karen Cargill is up against her studio recording with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Robin Ticciati on Linn, and the honours are pretty much even: what her live LSO version loses in accuracy of intonation it gains in drama, with an impressive range of tone and emotion.


Martin Cotton