Berlioz: Benvenuto Cellini (Weimar version)

COMPOSERS: Berlioz
LABELS: Hanssler
ALBUM TITLE: Berlioz
WORKS: Benvenuto Cellini (Weimar version)
PERFORMER: (Weimar version) Bruce Ford, Laura Claycomb,Franz Hawlata, Monica Groop, Christopher Maltman, Ralf Lukas, Johannes Chum, Reinhard Mayr; MDR Radio Chorus, Leipzig; SWR Radio SO, Stuttgart/Roger Norrington
CATALOGUE NO: CD 93.105
For over 30 years Colin Davis’s 1972 recording of the opera held undisputed sway: a blaze of energy and insight, with Nicolai Gedda and Christiane Eda-Pierre in splendid form, though limited to some extent by 1970s sound. Then in the centenary year 2003 John Nelson conducted a recording that includes a mass of wonderful material rescued by Hugh Macdonald for the New Berlioz Edition – as Nelson admitted, almost an embarras de richesses (see review, February 2005). Now Roger Norrington gives us the shortened Weimar version, from a concert performance also in 2003.

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Whatever reservations we may have over the loss of so much fascinating music, it’s clear from Berlioz’s letters that he was happy in 1852 to shorten the work at Liszt’s behest, in the interests of a careful, enthusiastic production such as the Opéra had so decidedly not given the work in 1838. This recording too is ablaze. One could find fault with Bruce Ford’s French, and his top notes are not always things of beauty, but he can do both amorous and heroic, and blends well with Laura Claycomb’s spirited Teresa. The outstanding characterisation is Monica Groop’s Ascanio, a splendidly idiomatic use of words supporting her fine dramatic flair. As for the Stuttgart sound, it’s made for this music: strong, lithe, unsentimental, and with a brass section that will have the neighbours hammering on the wall. Norrington, for his part, achieves pinpoint accuracy and makes the whole piece dance as well as sing. Roger Nichols