Berlioz: Roméo et Juliette

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Roméo et Juliette
PERFORMER: Catherine Robbin (mezzo-soprano), Jean-Paul Fouchécourt (tenor), Gilles Cachemaille (baritone); Monteverdi Choir, Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique/John Eliot Gardiner
CATALOGUE NO: 454 454-2
It is not only the period instruments that make this recording (so far) unique, but the nearest possible approach to the original form (1839) of the musical text. While recording all the ‘standard’ version, as published by Berlioz, Gardiner includes earlier versions of the Funeral Procession and finale, restoring passages Berlioz rejected (in the latter case, wisely). The original prologues are delivered with such conviction as to challenge Berlioz’s decision to dispense with this explicit all-sung programme. Surviving in vocal score, the second prologue required orchestration, effectively done by Oliver Knussen. All of which is more than enough to make this fascinating set indispensable to the true Berliozian. Only time, and repetition, will tell whether the performance itself matches the classics by Pierre Monteux and Colin Davis. It has great strengths, best displayed in the frenzied opening, the sizzling ball scene and the grandly operatic finale. The soloists are good, Cachemaille being prime this music and Robbin sounding remarkably like Janet Baker. My really minimal quibble is that the scherzo seems more crisp than magical, and the love scene lacks at its last climactic declaration that glorious expansiveness which (admittedly) is prescribed more by tradition than by the score. Julian Rushton