Berlioz: Béatrice et Bénédict

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

WORKS: Béatrice et Bénédict
PERFORMER: Enkelejda Shkosa, Kenneth Tarver, Susan Gritton, Sara Mingardo, David Wilson-Johnson; LSO & Chorus/Colin Davis
This is Colin Davis’s third recording of Berlioz’s last opera and swansong. The second is my benchmark, although Barenboim’s version runs it close, with the perfect Beatrice in Yvonne Minton. Shkosa is a more biting Beatrice than Baker (this is a compliment), adequately supported, or opposed, by Tarver. Their first duet is the sharpest performance I can recall of this difficult number; Baker is grander at the turning point, her single aria. The slow part of Gritton’s aria is exquisite, marking Hero as a real character, not merely a sentimental foil to witty Beatrice. The problem of recording opera with spoken dialogue is exacerbated in this work because much of it is translated Shakespeare. The benchmark recording provides a skeletal dramatic context (where Barenboim included a patronising narrative). The new recording omits all the speaking, with the bizarre justification on the insert leaflet that this is done ‘in order to retain musical continuity’. But there was, of course, no such continuity to begin with. There is too little music for two CDs: Davis omits the repetition of two numbers. But in Berlioz’s most scintillating and sensuous music, Davis is still on top form, combining forward momentum with sensitivity to phrasing and orchestral detail. That the brass is a little raw for so delicate a piece I attribute to the live Barbican recording; happily the dynamic range is for once sufficient, the tender Nocturne fading imperceptibly into silence. Julian Rushton