Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette – Colin Davis

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

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 28 February, 2003
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Sir Colin Davis’s 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 etJuliette.

With its cumulative assembly of vocal and instrumental movements, Berlioz’s ’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 chorus’s foreboding of the tragedies to come was balefully immediate.

The orchestra comes into its own in the ensuing three movements. Davisbrought raptness to Romeo’s 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 Berlioz’s orchestration such as can rarely have been equalled.

Concentration slipped a little in the fugal textures of Juliet’s funeralcortège, choir and orchestra not quite integrated in the chromatic mesh, butthe ’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 work’s 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.

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