Berlioz: Roméo et Juliette

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

WORKS: Roméo et Juliette
PERFORMER: Daniela Barcellona (mezzo-soprano), Kenneth Tarver (tenor), Orlin Anastassov (bass); LSO & Chorus/Colin Davis
CATALOGUE NO: LSO 0003 CD (available from or tel 020 7638 8891)
For such a richly varied work, ravishing, inspiring and moving, Berlioz’s seven-movement ‘dramatic symphony’ is not over-represented in the catalogue, and this despite two previous recordings by the same conductor, undoubtedly the foremost Berliozian of the late 20th century. Davis himself, therefore, provides the obvious benchmark in his second recording (the first is packaged with other orchestral and dramatic works), although I cannot forget the classic, pre-digital performance of Pierre Monteux. Gardiner is another contestant, with a fine early-instrument recording which includes material Berlioz rejected, and allows alternative routes through his complex interpretation (at times, indeed, misreading) of Shakespeare. The new version, despite some over-excited brass, is governed by a purity of vision and moulded with a ripeness which even a Davis cannot achieve every time. Not only the vitality, but also the passion and warmth, are extraordinary; and I am sure at least that this is going to be my favourite version of the ecstatic love scene for some time to come. My five-star ratings must be read in the context of live performance; while technical blemishes are insignificant, a studio might have covered the characteristic Davis hum. I cannot say I like the black tone of Anastassov, nor his histrionic delivery and slightly skewed French; and although there is no doubting his tremendous commitment in the splendid finale, he is inferior to Shirley-Quirk and Miles for Davis and Cachemaille for Gardiner. In the Prologue, Tarver is perfect, but Barcellona, incautiously wobbly well before Berlioz prescribed vibrato, cannot match Borodina. Julian Rushton