Berlioz: Les troyens

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

WORKS: Les troyens
PERFORMER: Ben Heppner, Michelle DeYoung, Petra Lang, Sara Mingardo, Peter Mattei, Stephen Milling, Kenneth Tarver; LSO & Chorus/Colin Davis
This, the third complete recording of Berlioz’s magnificent epic, must be the new ‘benchmark’ Trojans. It is taken from live performances at the Barbican last December, the applause (there was surely plenty – the reviews were ecstatic) having been carefully excised. The alternatives are that noble achievement, the first complete recording (1969), also by Davis (Philips), and a slightly under-charged version by Dutoit (Decca), which does however include a scene Berlioz cut. Davis remains in full command of music which he has made so much his own; his reading is mellower yet no less exciting than before. Occasional harshness among the brilliant sounds only reflects the tragedy and sets the beauty of the lyrical scenes into higher relief. Particularly welcome are a Dido and Aeneas fully equal to these tremendous roles. Heppner has enough of the excitement of Jon Vickers (past his best for Davis) and finer lyrical qualities matching those of the less heroic Gary Lakes (Dutoit). DeYoung is warmer than either Josephine Veasey (Davis) or the over-vibrant soprano of Françoise Pollet (Dutoit; Berlioz specified mezzo). There is impressive support from Lang, Mattei and Mingardo. The main fault with Dutoit’s version is a lack of emotional commitment to the words, particular from his Cassandra; no such complaint is possible here. If a couple of times DeYoung loses the pitch in her passionate denunciation of her faithless lover, who can blame her? Her recapture of control for the final aria and the subsequent death scene is all the more moving.