Saint-Saëns: Samson et Dalila

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COMPOSERS: Saint-Sa‘ns
LABELS: Erato
WORKS: Samson et Dalila
PERFORMER: José Cura, Olga Borodina, Jean-Philippe Lafont, Robert Lloyd, Egils Silins; LSO & Chorus/Colin Davis
CATALOGUE NO: 3984-24756-2
It is perhaps surprising, given the breadth of his repertory, that Colin Davis should have chosen to re-record Saint-Saëns’s biblical pot-boiler so soon after his 1989 Philips version with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. An explanation lies in the quality of the cast: Olga Borodina’s sumptuous, alluring tones are just right for the part of the scheming Dalila, while José Cura is widely admired as among the most stylish of today’s operatic tenors. Neither star disappoints: Cura is subtle and inward in the first two acts, and finds a different mode of expression altogether – by turns despairing and forcefully heroic – for Act III (by then blinded, bound and betrayed); Borodina is, as always, a striking presence. Her big Act II aria ‘Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix’ starts slowly and a touch coolly, but builds to a most passionate climax. Both are distinctly preferable to their 1989 counterparts José Carreras (who tends to bellow) and Agnes Baltsa (who lacks Borodina’s warmth), while the new recording also offers an excellent supporting cast including Jean-Philippe Lafont’s menacing High Priest and Robert Lloyd’s superbly resonant Old Hebrew. The contribution of the London Symphony Chorus is an important one, too – Saint-Saëns originally imagined the work as an oratorio in the Handelian tradition – and they sing with great beauty of tone and excellent French. The Hebrew choruses in Act I are perhaps a bit tame (the Bavarian Radio Chorus members certainly go at the piece with more theatricality) – but for the premature rejoicing of Act III they manage to sound like real Philistines. Stephen Maddock

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