Berlioz: La damnation de Faust

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WORKS: La damnation de Faust
PERFORMER: Thomas Moser, Susan Graham, José van Dam, Frédéric CatonOrchestra & Chorus of Lyon Opera/Kent Nagano
CATALOGUE NO: 0630-10692-2 DDD
Early critics called Berlioz’s Faust a symphony, although it is nothing of the kind. Berlioz’s original subtitle ‘Concert Opera’ best expresses its genre, but the orchestra is required to play symphonic and operatic roles. The Lyon players preserve a distinctively French tone, particularly deeper wind and brass, and despite some cautious tempi from Nagano (rather unyieldingly maintained) it is the hero of this performance. Moser’s voice is not of especial beauty, but he sings with outstanding sensitivity and produces a rapt pianissimo in his third solo where many tenors let rip. Entering for the first time in Part 3, a good Marguerite has a chance to lift the performance: Graham does so, but then does not squeeze the utmost from the Romance. Van Dam is a weighty bass Méphistophélès, but he takes the higher alternatives with suavity. Unfortunately there is insufficient timbral contrast with Caton’s Brander; and while the chorus is generally excellent the students’ ‘Amen’ sounds depressingly sober. This Damnation, then, is splendidly dramatic in the grand operatic scenes, elsewhere a little under-characterised; it need not replace Barenboim and cannot replace Colin Davis, but is certainly worth having. And for once there is an audible boys’ chorus in heaven. Julian Rushton