Roméo et Juliette Dramatic Symphony, Op. 17
Sara Mingardo (contralto)
Stuart Neill (tenor)
Alastair Miles (bass)
London Symphony Chorus
London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis
Berliozs Roméo et Juliette Colin Davis
Friday, February 28, 2003 Barbican Hall, London
Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse
Sir Colin Daviss celebration of the Berlioz bi-centenary has been modest in comparison with the lengthy sequence of concerts he conducted in 2000, though his authority in music whose current standing owes much to his efforts has never been greater not least in this account of Roméo et
With its cumulative assembly of vocal and instrumental movements, Berliozs dramatic symphony is a difficult work to sustain over the course of its 95 minutes or so. Best not to weigh down the emotions of Part One, as Davis demonstrates. After a vivid account of the Introduction, the Prologue set the scene simply and effectively, while Sara Mingardo moulded the contours of Strophes with genuine feeling. Stuart Neill was a shade literal in the caprice of the Scherzetto, but the choruss foreboding of the tragedies to come was balefully immediate.
The orchestra comes into its own in the ensuing three movements. Davis
brought raptness to Romeos soliloquy as to make one almost regret the arrival of the music for the Capulets Ball. After the departing revellers had proved a shade intrusive, the Love Scene was given with an easeful intensity as redolent of Bruckner or Beethoven and with an underlying pathos the more affecting in context. Here and in the Queen Mab scherzo, the LSO demonstrated awareness of the innovative brilliance of Berliozs orchestration such as can rarely have been equalled.
Concentration slipped a little in the fugal textures of Juliets funeral
cortège, choir and orchestra not quite integrated in the chromatic mesh, but
the Tomb Scene transforming earlier themes in a montage of mood-swings had a visceral impact. And, as rarely happens in a live performance of the work, the choral Finale had an emotional breadth to clinch the works dramatic and symphonic implications. Alastair Miles had all the requisite authority as Friar Lawrence, bringing the two feuding families together in a full-blown (though not on this occasion over-blown) paean of reconciliation, which was relevant on more than just a musical level at the present time.