Romeo and Juliet Dramatic Symphony
Daniela Barcellona (mezzo-soprano)
Kenneth Tarver (tenor)
Orlin Anastassov (bass)
London Symphony Chorus & Orchestra conducted by Sir Colin Davis
Reviewed by: Paul Hutchinson
Reviewed: January 2002
CD No: LSO LIVE LSO 0003 CD (2 CDs)
It’s the shape of Romeo and Juliet that always surprises me. Instead of the conventional orchestral introduction followed by vocal solos and choruses in alternate sequence, Berlioz utilises openness of form, seizing on character variety and emotional range as a means of giving this symphony its dramatic shape. It always comes as a wonder to hear, for instance, after the choral strophes and the mezzo’s ’Premier transports…’, the two long orchestral movements, ’Romeo Alone’ and the glorious ’Love Scene’. Berlioz was quite simply being anti-literal, deliberately not allowing Shakespeare’s words to dominate in order to give his opus symphonic credence – the significant events of the drama are in the orchestra. In this, he triumphed.
This is Colin Davis’s third recording of Romeo and Juliet. This one is ’live’ and taken from the LSO’s acclaimed ’Berlioz Odyssey’ series in the Barbican, recorded at performances on 11 and 13 January 2000. Of his three recordings, I dare to suggest that this is Davis’s most accomplished, integrated and emotionally authentic realisation. The orchestral contribution is utterly superb; every section of the LSO is in top form. The London Symphony Chorus sounds warm and homogeneous, while the soloists deliver their individual numbers with tact, characterisation and a real feeling for style.
It is Davis’s training of the orchestra that really shows. His feeling for brass sonorities, for instance in the Prince’s peroration to the warring factions of Montagues and Capulets at the symphony’s opening, is particularly acute. Similarly, the delicate playing of the strings in the scherzo, ’Queen Mab’, is thrown into relief by the strong rhythmic profile of the lower strings’ accompaniment. If at times rhythms seem a little foursquare, by the time of the final, reconciling exclamation – “friends forever!” – one is totally convinced by the authority Davis brings to the work. The lack of sentimentality in the gorgeous ’Love Scene’ only goes to strengthen the music’s beauty and proves once again Davis’s credentials as a Berlioz conductor. In ’Queen Mab’, Davis’s restraint but judicious accenting conjures a shimmering orchestral picture of the Fairy Queen in her chariot, a nutshell “fashioned by a squirrel / a spider’s fingers wave her harness” – Davis creates atmosphere and magic.
Live-recorded performances can be variable in recording quality; this one maintains a vivid presence throughout – every section of the forces involved heard to advantage, albeit the chorus is balanced slightly backwards. A small cavil, for this is another triumph for Berlioz and Sir Colin.