Berlioz: Béatrice et Bénédict

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WORKS: Béatrice et Bénédict
PERFORMER: Yvonne Minton, Plácido Domingo, Ileana Cotrubas, Nadine Denize, John Macurdy, Roger Soyer, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau; Orchestre de Paris & Chorus/Daniel Barenboim
CATALOGUE NO: 449 577-2 ADD Reissue
Dating from 1982, this reissue is a good alternative to the slightly older Davis recording (Philips) with Baker, Tear, Eda-Pierre and the LSO. Musically there is not much to choose, but the intractable problem of spoken dialogue distinguishes the versions. With an anglophone cast, Davis at least makes the attempt to present the music in a genuinely dramatic context. Here the numbers are linked by an archly spoken narration (Geneviève Page) which manages to patronise characters and listeners alike. Perhaps the international cast made this inevitable, but there will be much reaching for the next-track button even by those with fluent French. Fischer-Dieskau is wasted on a short drinking-song and Cotrubas excessively monochrome in Héro’s beautiful aria; her ensemble singing blends pleasantly, however, with Denize in the nocturne and with Minton in the exquisite trio which, as the last piece composed, crowns Berlioz’s delicate swansong. Domingo is an ebullient and intelligent Bénédict, and Minton gives the finest possible account of Béatrice’s dramatically crucial aria. Barenboim lingers over some details but moves swiftly to match the singer’s mood: a loving performance with excellent orchestral playing. Julian Rushton