This recording is based on performances by the LSO at the end of last year, which generated a great deal of excitement at the time. Eye witness accounts tell of white-hot performances to tell the grandchildren about, and their release on CD is very good news. This is Sir Colin Davis' second recording of this piece and whilst I haven't heard the first, it's hard to imagine him producing better. The recording is coherent across its sprawling whole (the two "parts", not remotely equal) in spite of having been recorded at different times.
Yes, the playing of the LSO is the star of the recordings. All the textures - from the big set pieces to the intimate moments, by way of the spooky "ghost" music and the plentiful dances - are perfectly brough to life, the tempi ideal. Perhaps the zenith comes in Act 4, where the dances are followed by the languorous love music, which provides an overwhelming palate of sound. The chorus sounds a bit thin and lacklustre for my liking, and indeed for me are the set's main drawback.
And the singers? The principal roles are notoriously difficult and Davis has a mix of the well known and the less well known among his cast. Spanning both parts, Heppner's Enee is thrilling and he makes light of the killer tessitura. There is no lack of spirit and fire, though perhaps more sensuous singing in Act 4 would be useful - although this is already an astonishing performance. Lang's Cassandre is fabulous, fiery, crazed and ultimately triumphant. Technically she is wonderful, solid from bottom to top without betraying her mezzo status. The other main mezzo, Michelle de Young, is aptly queenly as Dido, producing creamy sound with occasional pitch difficulties. She is at her best in the outbursts in Act 5 where her anger could strip paint. Sara Mingardo, as her sister Anna, sings gloriously thorughout - what a wonderful Dido she would be. Among the rest of the cast, Mattei's Chorebe is smooth, Tarver's Iopas beautifully and tastefully sung, and Spence's Hylas eager and lyrical.
All in all, a great triumph. The sound quality is good, the amount of extraneous "live" sound is minimal, and the accompanying literature adequate. At an unbvelievably low price, this recording is recommendable to just about anyone who cares about Berlioz, Opera, or epic music theatre.