- Hector Berlioz - Episodes in the Life of an Artist [Recommended Recordings]
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Hector Berlioz
Recommended Recordings

"Music is at once the product of feeling and knowledge, for it requires from its disciples, composers and performers alike, not only talent and enthusiasm, but also that knowledge and perception which are the result of protracted study and reflection."

Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique
(Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra; conducted by Sir Colin Davis)
This superb 1974 recording is considered one of the best.

Les Troyens
(John Mark Ainsley, Michel Beauchemin, et al; Montreal Symphony Chorus, Montreal Symphony Orchestra; Charles Dutoit, conductor)
In the absence of Colin Davis's pioneering Les Troyens recording on Philips (temporary, one hopes), Charles Dutoit's more recent 1993 outing with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and Chorus gives a vital, idiomatically French account of the opera, despite mixed success with the singers. Few operas are as nightmarish to cast as this epic about the Trojan War and its aftermath, and it would have been better made either a few years earlier when Plácido Domingo and Jessye Norman were still performing it, or a few years later, when Ben Heppner and Renée Fleming might be recruited. In the central role of Aeneas, Gary Lakes has been unfairly compared to Jon Vickers on the Davis set, though Lakes came to the recording having done a number of stage performances of Les Troyens, and it shows. As Cassandra, Deborah Voigt delivers magnificent vocalism but is still finding her way into the role. The big disappointment is Françoise Pollet, who is a vocally underpowered, score-bound Dido. Still, Dutoit generates sparks, thanks to his attempted use of Berlioz's fast metronome markings. (review by David Patrick Stearns)

Ravel: Schéhérazade, Berlioz: Nuits d'été
(Jessye Norman; London Symphony Orchestra; Sir Colin Davis, conductor)
The most important thing to remember about Les Nuits d'été is that there's only one quick song and one moderate one to balance out three long, slow ones. Although the work is not a cycle in any coherent sense, most performers do the pieces in Berlioz's final order: the quick one first, then the three slow ones, then the moderate one. This makes for a very long middle. Norman's rich, dark voice might be thought a bit heavy for this particular order, but she has another card up her sleeve: Her singing is so gorgeous that one simply forgets about time and just drowns in the tone. Ravel's exotic oriental song cycle provides just the right pick-me-up after the Romantic excesses of the Berlioz. (review by David Hurwitz)


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