Berlioz: La Damnation de Faust

COMPOSERS: Berlioz
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Berlioz
WORKS: La Damnation de Faust
PERFORMER: Marie-Ange Todorovitch, Michael Myers, Alain Vernhes, René Schirrer; Slovak Philharmonic Choir; Orchestre National de Lille/Jean-Claude Casadesus
CATALOGUE NO: 8.660116-17
Is Berlioz’s Faust a scholar led astray by the eternal feminine? Or a man of passion who just happened to take to books at an impressionable age? Berlioz may not have written the work as an opera, but its operatic lineage and purport are unmistakable. Performance has to reflect this. But how far to go?

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Alain Vernhes’s Méphistophélès is the best thing in this recording – menacing, suave, and authoritative. lsewhere there is too much that is respectable, even polite. Casadesus takes the ‘Marche hongroise’ on the fast side, thereby losing its marcato character, while the ‘Song of the flea’, curiously but meaningfully marked ‘Allegretto con fuoco’, lacks the zip that Colin Davis gives it in both his recordings. Michael Myers’s French is not perfect, his high C sharp in the Trio is decidedly dodgy, and he has a tiresome habit of chopping up phrases into small bits (‘Que j’aime/ce silence!’). Marie-Ange Todorovitch has a widish beat in the upper regions and interpretatively never ventures beyond bland.

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Davis’s 2002 recording with the LSO has the benefit of wonderful choral singing, but we have to weather groans from Davis, quite a few noises off (being a live recording), and a painfully out-of-tune Marguerite in the ‘Roi de Thulé’, while Giuseppe Sabbatini as Faust goes further in the direction of opera than some would approve. Davis’s 1973 studio recording, also with LSO forces, boasts the dream team of Gedda and Veasey – superb singing and, for my taste, just operatic enough. Roger Nichols