Berlioz: Harold en Italie; Le carnaval romain, Le corsaire & Benvenuto Cellini Overtures

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Berlioz
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Harold en Italie; Le carnaval romain, Le corsaire & Benvenuto Cellini Overtures
PERFORMER: Laurent Verney (viola); Bastille Opera Orchestra/Myung-Whun Chung
CATALOGUE NO: 447 102-2
This is a combination of good middle-period Berlioz, four works in which his rhythmic élan appears at its most vital. Indeed the earliest of them, Harold in Italy, has been called a compendium of rhythmic inventions. Myung-Whun Chung goes all out for the grandiose and the brilliant; he allows a lot of detail to be clearly heard, although the woodwind solos are backward. But he brings out the inventiveness of rhythm purely by hard, unrelenting attack in the forte passages, the metronomic precision relieved only by overdone rallentandos. The performances are therefore sometimes exciting, but hardly ingratiating at all, and they lack the nervous intensity appropriate to this composer, even at his most ostensibly cheerful. The problem is not speed – the finale of Harold is even a little slow and one would never guess at its marking, ‘frenetic’ – but some harsh, even vulgar, brass playing which might be intended to confirm old prejudices concerning this composer (‘blaring Berlioz’). Verney’s nasal viola tone meshes with this approach; his first solo is over-sophisticated for such a clean-lined melody. Having said this, the performances are worth hearing, but not perhaps ones to live with. Julian Rushton

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