Schubert and Berlioz CD reviews


SCHUBERT DIE SCHÖNE MÜLLERIN: Williams / Burnside (Chandos CHAN 20113) ★★★★

The finest lieder singers have, of course, always characterized the individual songs which make up Schubert's two great cycles, Die Schöne Müllerin and Winterreise. Nowadays the fashion is for singers to adopt a dramatic persona when performing but Roderick Williams' approach as the love-lorn Miller's apprentice is part of that earlier tradition – intense projection of the text but with no imported method acting. As a baritone he takes the lower-key options but lightens his voice very effectively. His combination of vocal depth but wide-eyed naivete in Am Feierabend (After Work) and Des Müllers Blumen (The Miller's Flowers), for example, recalls the muscular but emotionally vulnerable heroes of Thomas Hardy's rural novels. Iain Burnside's playing is immensely characterful – just listen to the purling brook and grinding mill wheels. The vivid, spacious recording is first rate. If you want ultra intensity try Matthias Goerne, but this Chandos disc is a satisfying experience.

Norman Stinchcombe

BERLIOZ DAMNATION OF FAUST: Hymel / Cargill / Purves / LSO / Rattle (LSO Live 2 CDs / SACDs LSO 0809) ★★★★★

Rattle conducted a blisteringly exciting performance of this work with the CBSO in 1997 – and twenty years later he matched it with this live concert recording from the London Symphony Orchestra. It comfortably outclasses in every way Sir Colin Davis's 2001 LSO Live recording. The sound is clearer and sharper so that the LSO's virtuoso playing in the Hungarian March and Dance of the Sylphs, and Rattle's rip-roaring Ride to the Abyss, is much more vivid. American tenor Bryan Hymel is an ardent Faust, albeit yelping his high C in the love duet, and Karen Cargill is a firmly sung Marguerite, ardent and tender in D'amour l'ardente flamme, while Christopher Purves oozes mordant cynicism as Mephistopheles. Simon Halsey marshals the choral forces, adults and children, with his accustomed expertise. They couldn't all fit on the Barbican's shallow platform which makes for an interesting aural spread when heard in 5.1 surround sound.

Norman Stinchcombe

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