Le Corsaire, Op.21
Béatrice et Bénédict
Les Francs-juges, Op.3
Le Carnaval romain, Op.9
Le Roi Lear, Op.4
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
Sir Andrew Davis
Recorded 11-14 June 2012 in Grieghallen, Bergen, Norway
CD No: CHANDOS CHSA 5118 Duration: 73 minutes Reviewed: February 2013
Berlioz Overtures – Andrew Davis conducts the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra [Chandos]
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
Berlioz from Bergen courtesy of the city’s excellent Philharmonic Orchestra and a long-time devotee of the composer’s music, Sir Andrew Davis. The programme begins with Le Corsaire, an exhilarating and affectionate performance, but a shame about the stray pizzicato from one of the violinists at 5’06”, which will irritate on future listens. The rest of the line-up is plain-sailing though. Béatrice et Bénédict is spirited, maybe a little too much so, if not without pathos where it matters most, but the coda finds the trombones encouraged to be bombastic. Les Francs-juges brings great portent, electricity and shapeliness; the vivid timpani and bassoons really catch the ear. Sunny lyricism informs Roman Carnival before the festivities take full swing, details darting out of the texture as part of a nifty reading.
The wonderful Waverly Overture follows; quite why this piece hasn’t caught on is beyond me, a feast of melodic and rhythmic invention that could be only by Berlioz, and Andrew Davis does it proud. The great masterpiece that is King Lear opens with a weighty summons from the lower strings. Davis instils dramatic tension throughout the lengthy introduction and then gives fervent wing to the allegro before yielding for the glorious, achingly expressive oboe-led melody that steals in to captivate the listener; the conclusion is thrilling. Benvenuto Cellini bustles with beauty and activity, although the brass is far too loud in the final stretches.
Only Rob Roy is missing from this overture collection. It’s not a good piece and the best music was re-used in Harold in Italy; furthermore there would have been no room for it. If Andrew Davis perhaps encourages fortissimos louder than they should be and points up every piccolo skirl and every such particular of scoring, then they are there in the scores; I might just quibble the degree to which Berlioz’s orchestral treatises are set in relief. At least there is plenty of silence between tracks in order to take stock. The venue’s acoustic suits the Chandos template very well being spacious, warm and very vivid – the performances are uncompromisingly sound-engineered by Ralph Couzens and discreetly produced by Brian Pidgeon. A few reservations aside, this is a recommendable release of wonderful music, the Bergen Philharmonic having a ball.