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4.1 out of 5 stars
Berlioz: Les Troyens (Live, 2000)
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on March 4, 2002
While beautiful in sound (despite the live), well conducted and full of spirit and enthusiasm, and arguably benefiting from better voices than the Dutoit version, this version can't match the appropriateness of the singing (and of the French) of the likes of Dame Janet Baker, tenors George Thill and Nicolai Gedda - or even Domingo in the Met telecast version. In particular Heppner is in my opinion somewhat lacking in this - despite obvious efforts toward purity of line and restraint in using the huge vocal means, he stops far short of his illustrious predecessors in these and in nobilty of tone - for example the nasal recitatives are more Wagnerian than Berliozian. He also needs very significant work on the French language. Hardly a word is understandable, and we are served mash potatoes, by Heppner, Martirossian, and de Young. Andrew Greenan is a very notable and appreciated exception in that regard.
I guess no single record set does this extraordinarily complex and expansive work justice, and this one is certainly valuable in many regards - but very, very far from definitive. What a shame it is treated as such by the record companies - and that other key versions, such as the vastly superiorly sung (IMHO) 1969, are no longer available.
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on March 3, 2002
I have little to add to the other fine informative reviews of this recording, except to express my great satisfaction in seeing it recognized through the Grammy award! Having been at the concerts at which the recording was made, I can confirm the tremendous sense of excitement of the audience at large at hearing orchestra and singers rising to new heights of inspiration. Sir Colin's earlier ROH Covent Garden recording with Veasey and Vickers set a standard that was hard to beat, yet this new LSO Live recording certainly does that in some aspects... principally the playing of the LSO. As another reviewer says, they are the stars of the piece. Hopefully this recording will do much to promote a better knowledge of one of the most monumental operas of all time, including the earlier Beecham rendering of it. And, hopefully, Berlioz' other works as well. The LSO Live series also includes Sir Colin's recent performances of "La damnation de Faust" and "Romeo et Juliette". The latter, particularly, is an absolute gem. And the same label has just released Sir Colin's version of Elgar's First Symphony... the LSO's playing of the Adagio is electrifying. LSO Live seems to move from one triumph to another!
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on October 29, 2001
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.
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on October 29, 2001
This live 2000 performance is both a thrilling experience & one of the bargains of all time - & it comes with full French/English libretto plus David Cairns's authoritative essay. But... in Sir Colin Davis's landmark 1969 (studio) version, there were 3 French-speaking soloists (in supporting roles) & - aside from 1 Swede & 1 Canadian - the rest were British, which gave some linguistic consistency to the performance. Here a lone Frenchwoman (in a minor role) is surrounded by a United Nations of artists: Canada, the U.S., Germany, Bulgaria, Turkey, Britain, Armenia, Sweden, Denmark & China... No language coach could be expected to bring verbal cohesion to such a group, nor to fix basic deficiencies in language training; the French on these discs ranges from well-schooled to mediocre.
That aside, this performance deserves all the praise it's received. Davis's fine interpretation hasn't changed in basic conception; where things are different, it's for the better, especially in the tender care he now brings to the more lyrical passages. Plus there's the added excitement of a live performance. Orchestra & chorus are excellent, & so is almost all of the solo singing. Petra Lang is a vivid Cassandra, using her dark mezzo to great effect. Ben Heppner sings Aeneas really beautifully with no strain whatsoever, in itself a tremendous accomplishment; not by temperament a "live wire," he nonetheless rises to the dramatic challenges of the last act to great effect. Michelle DeYoung's Dido is more a very promising role debut that a fully finished portrayal (she was "moved up" from Cassandra on short notice). This gifted singer, blessed with a beautiful voice & strong theatrical instincts, does much lovely singing, but the part isn't fully "in" her voice yet. Her French vowels, too, are surprisingly unreliable, & she tends to fuss the musical line in the cause of "expressiveness." (Listen to Marisa Ferrer on Sir Thomas Beecham's electrifying 1947 broadcast Troyens [Malibran-Music CDRG 162] to hear what a difference correct, clear vowels & an unshakable legato can make).
Highly recommended - & thank you, LSO, for making these wonderful performances available at reasonable cost. (But if you love, or fall in love with Les Troyens, please hear the Beecham version for that extra dimension of linguistic authenticity.)
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on October 10, 2001
Some 30 years ago Sir Colin Davis gave us the first complete recording of Berlioz's LES TROYENS that put to rest the argument that as an opera it did not work. That performance while quite fine was at times a bit reserved. Sir Colin has now recorded the work again and if you were afraid that age would bring even slower tempos or even more reserve then your fears are happily groundless. Recorded during a series of concert performances Davis gives us a vibrant and very alive performance with a very fine cast. Very open and detailed sound further enhance the performance. This new recording is basically selling at mid price
and is actually cheaper than its 30 year old rival. A bargin and a great performance.
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on September 21, 2001
Colin Davis is recognized as one of the finest, if not THE finest, conductor of Berlioz living today. His first recording of the complete LES TROYENS made history. Recorded in 1969 with a super cast that included Jon Vickers and Josephine Veasy, it was the benchmark for any new recordings.
Now over 30 years later, this recording of Berlioz' culminating achievement on the LSO Live label goes it one better: the opera, on four discs, is a long one and can seem tedious and repetative in the wrong hands. Davis is once again the conductor and, if anything, his interpretation has deepened. The cast in this December, 2000 live concert performance is headed by the heldentenor of our time, Ben Heppner. His strength and romantic sound are perfect for the hero, 'Aeneas.' I am not familiar with any of the other singers, including the sopranos Michelle DeYoung and Petra Lang who play 'Dido' and 'Cassandra' respectively, but every one in this huge cast is first rate.
The sound is perfect and the London Symphony and its chorus do this remarkable, rarely performed, very difficult work justice.
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