Liszt: A Faust Symphony

Our rating 
2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

COMPOSERS: Liszt
LABELS: DG
WORKS: A Faust Symphony
PERFORMER: Vinson Cole (tenor); Dresden State Opera Chorus, Dresden Staatskapelle/Giuseppe Sinopoli
CATALOGUE NO: 449 137-2 DDD
Liszt’s Goethe-inspired masterpiece has fared regally on disc of late, with Simon Rattle’s Berlin version currently heading an impressive field, and bespeaking an overdue renaissance for this mighty work. Bernstein’s Boston and New York reissues are self-recommending; on Denon, Eliahu Inbal is undeniably charismatic, but Rattle’s live EMI version is, I’ve concluded, the finest Faust yet committed to disc. Sinopoli and his Dresdeners now offer this alarmingly underpowered apologia, insufficiently damage-limited by an enraptured Vinson Cole during the final ‘Chorus Mysticus’.

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Sinopoli’s portrayal of Faust lacks bite and histrionic dynamism; this hero appears as neither a seeker after eternal truth (why is Faust’s questing motif so pedestrian here?), nor a tormented Romantic. Gretchen is drawn in impressionist pastels; she, too, is strangely remote, despite playing of enticingly plangent sensitivity. The finale exposes unexpected ensemble flaws, but Mephistopheles’s ‘Spirit of Negation’ lumbers along without much vitriol or malice; there’s little of the diabolical rhythmic snap and venomous distortion that Bernstein and Rattle find here and, much as I admired the cathartic assurance of the closing pages, Sinopoli’s reading is a wayward, disconcertingly mind-numbing exegesis in which Goethe’s characters seem rarely more than lifeless effigies. Exceptionally vivid sonics; otherwise, a Faust worth missing. Michael Jameson