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Berlioz

05.01.13
Sir Andrew Davis
Gramophone

By Ivan March

'Overtures'
Beatrice et Benedict- Overture. Benvenuto Cellini -
Overture. Le carnaval romain, Op 9. Le corsaire,
Op 21. Les francs•juges, Op 3. Le roi Lear, Op 4.
Waverley, Op 1
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra I Sir Andrew Davis
Chandos CHSA511B C73' • DDD/DSD)

Andrew Davis in Bergen for Berlioz showpieces Of the seven spectacular overtures in this collection, three are exciting introductions for operas, one is actually part of an opera, while the remaining three are independent compositions. But what is astonishing is the brilliance of the orchestration, particularly in the rhythmically sparkling Benvenuto Cellini (1838) and Les corsairec (1844). Before this pair had come the bold, forceful Les france-juges (1826), which has remarbble brass-writing and a catchy main tune that became famous as a TV signature theme. Waverley (1827 -28) was inspired by Sir Walter Scott's novel and the Shakespearean Le roi Lear  (1831) centres on a portrait of the deranged king, yet musically also remembers his daughter Cordelia.

But the work most listeners remember best is the breathtaking Le carnaval romain, also written in 1844 and based on the exhilarating Act I finale to the opera Benvenuto Cellini. This evokes a carnival in Rome, an occasion which the composer himself had attended in 1831. Even today its dash and energy, contrasting with a memorably lyrical cor anglais solo, are remarkable. But even more so is the vividness of the orchestration. It is difficult to believe that it dates from so soon after the death of Beethoven, whose style of orchestration is so utterly different.

Until now the collection to have of these remarkable works was by the Staatskapelle Dresden under Sir Colin Davis (RCA, 1/99), deleted at present but still eminently recommendable. Still, these thrilling new performances by Sir Andrew Davis and the excellent Bergen Philharmonic tend to trump the earlier issue, not least for the superb SACD quality, which sounds almost equally spectacular on a non-SACD reproducer. Very highly recommended.