Gounod: Faust

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Gounod
LABELS: Orfeo
WORKS: Faust
PERFORMER: Piotr Beczala, Kwangchul Youn, Soile Isokoski, Adrian Eröd, Michaela Selinger, Zoryana Kushpler, Hans Peter Kammerer; Vienna State Opera Orchestra and Chorus/Bertrand de Billy
CATALOGUE NO: C 805 103 D

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There’s no shortage of Fausts on CD, so it’s pleasant to hear a new one that can compete – the more so as it’s live, from a Vienna State Opera performance. Much of the reason for its strength is the conductor Bertrand de Billy.

His sleevenote leaves no doubt of his commitment to Faust, and he confirms this with a reading of exceptional vigour and dignity, banishing genteel cobwebs and traditional cuts – except the ballet, because it was forced on Gounod. Alagna and Gheorghiu launched this production, but the new principals are appealing in their own fashion.

Soile Isokoski’s characteristically pure tones make her a winsomely vulnerable heroine, though her Jewel Song sounds cautious until the final penetrating notes, and her French diction sometimes slips into fuzziness. Piotr Beczala, as at Covent Garden, shows himself a sturdy lyric tenor, with some promise of spinto heft, but he’s a less nuanced performer, hardly differentiating the aged Faust vocally.

Kwangchul Youn’s smooth bass is arguably closer to the traditional French Méphistophélès of Pol Plançon than the coarser Slavic basses we often hear, but he could use much more of either’s characterful malevolence. Adrian Eröd’s Valentin, is refined but less compelling than, say, Thomas Allen for Georges Prêtre. Michaela Selinger’s Siébel justifies her extra aria; the singers taking on Marthe and Wagner are serviceable but Germanic.

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André Cluytens’s classic set, with Nicolai Gedda, Victoria de Los Angeles and Boris Christoff, remains a benchmark, but Michel Plasson and Prêtre offer more modern alternatives; for de Billy, this joins them. Michael Scott Rohan