Berlioz and Donizetti CD reviews


BERLIOZ: Toronto Symphony Orchestra / Davis (Chandos CD / SACD CHSA 5239) ★★★

This disc begins with a vibrant performance of Berlioz's Fantasy on Shakespeare's The Tempest. Berlioz's penchant for ear-tickling sonorities is evident as the excellent Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, as a chorus of spirits bidding Miranda farewell and threatening Caliban, waft their song over a tinkling piano played four hands. Under Sir Andrew Davis the fifteen minute work sparkles with youthful verve. Berlioz re-used the piece as the finale for Lelio, a sequel in which the hero of the Symphonie Fantastique returns to life. I wish we'd had a complete Lelio instead of this disappointingly routine reading of the symphony. The opening lacks fantasy, the hero mildly miffed not wildly distrait – whereas Chung (with the Bastille Opera Orchestra on DG) finds edge-of-a-nervous-breakdown intensity. What happened to Chandos's spacious soundscape? The two shepherds (oboe and cor anglais) are not magically distanced and the finale's loudly thwacked (and spotlit) tubular bells are without mystery.

DONIZETTI L'ANGE DE NISIDA: Soloists / Orchestra & Chorus of the Royal Opera House / Elder (Opera Rara 2 CDs ORC58) ★★★★

The Opera Rara label was founded in the 1960s by enthusiasts aiming to rehabilitate and record many of Donizetti's seventy bel canto operas that were languishing unheard and unperformed. This is their twenty-fifth and was captured in a live recording of the opera's world premiere at Covent Garden last year. It was to have been produced in Paris in 1828 but the theatre went bust and Donizetti recycled much of the music for, at first in French and then Italian, his big hit La Favorita. The scholar Candida Mantica spent a decade locating and restoring the original – a story told in the handsomely produced set's booklet. It's an uneven but enjoyable mix of high romance and low comedy with soprano Joyce El-Khoury impressive in the title role, with a worthy supporting cast. Sir Mark Elder marshals the Covent Garden forces to good effect. A libretto and translation are included.

Norman Stinchcombe

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