Berlioz: Roméo et Juliette

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Berlioz
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Roméo et Juliette
PERFORMER: Olga Borodina (mezzo-soprano); Thomas Moser (tenor); Alastair Miles (bass); Bavarian Radio Chorus, Vienna PO/Colin Davis
CATALOGUE NO: 442 134-2
Most conductors seem unaware that Berlioz wrote anything but the Fantastique. A few (Barenboim, Dutoit, Gardiner) have a wider repertoire; but Colin Davis has recorded nearly everything. There is no more reliable, and exciting Berlioz conductor today. His second recording of Roméo et Juliette joins his earlier one (with the LSO, Philips 416 962-2, now deleted) among the best ever.

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This seems like a live performance, with distinct coughs and heavy breathing (probably from Davis and the soloists, who are thrust excessively to the fore). Miles is a grand Friar Lawrence, using vocal power to exert tremendous moral authority, although he cannot quite displace Shirley-Quirk on the earlier Davis version. Borodina is exceptionally warm in the Prologue.

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There are rapturous woodwind solos, particularly oboe; the cello line which opens the Funeral Procession suffers from excess vibrato, but otherwise the orchestra and choir are excellent. Temptations to pomposity are resisted; the excitement is all live, the brilliant and dramatic, the tender and fantastical fully realised. What most distinguishes this from a merely good performance is the way attention to detail (dynamics, accents, crescendos, ritardandos) never detracts from the broad sweep of this wonderful disguised opera. Julian Rushton