Hervé Niquet Conducts Félicien David’s Herculanum

Performed by Véronique Gens, Karine Deshayes, Nicolas Courjal, the Flemish Radio Choir and the Brussels Philharmonic

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: David
LABELS: Ediciones Singulares
ALBUM TITLE: Herculanum
WORKS: Herculanum
PERFORMER: Véronique Gens, Karine Deshayes, Nicolas Courjal; Flemish Radio Choir; Brussels Philharmonic/Hervé Niquet
CATALOGUE NO: ES 1020

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The Paris Opéra was an exciting place to be on the night of 4 March 1859, as the stage filled with flashes of lightning, crumbling pillars and possibly even surges of simulated pyroclastic flow: Vesuvius was repeating its explosion of 79 AD as Félicien David’s four-act opera Herculanum reached its terrible climax. Berlioz found the orchestration a touch dull, with instruments generally operating in the middle of their registers, but that tells us a lot about Berlioz. I was glad to find David responding effectively to the various dramatic incidents before the final conflagration with a musical palette that owes nothing to the exotic style he had embraced in his smash hit Le Désert five years earlier. In the meantime he and the rest of Paris had had the opportunity of hearing the Opéra production of Verdi’s Sicilian Vespers, and David had obviously liked what he heard. We would listen in vain for anything approaching Berlioz’s or Verdi’s individuality, but the music is competently written and the soloists, especially Nicolas Courjal doubling as two baddie baritones, do a splendid job of bringing out the dramatic interplay between them.

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The booklet, finely produced, contains interesting and well-researched articles. I would have welcomed something on the version recorded here, since three of the arias approvingly mentioned by Berlioz are not found on the disc. Roger Nichols