Berlioz: Benvenuto Cellini (complete).

Album cover art for upc 028941695529
Catalog: 4169552
Format: CD

Robert Lloyd, Jules Bastin, Janine Reiss, Jane Berbié, Derek Blackwell, Hugues Cuénod, Nicolai Gedda, Christiane Eda-Pierre, Roger Soyer, Raimund Herincx, Robert Massard, Colin Davis

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Even Sir Colin Davis has rarely conducted a more electrifying Berlioz performance on record than here, demonstrating—with the help of singers from the presentation he promoted at Covent Garden—that for all its awkwardness on stage, this can be a thrilling opera on record. He is enormously helped by his cast, and most of all by Nicolai Gedda here giving one of the very finest, most powerful, most searching performances of his whole career. The Philips transfer engineers have been just as concerned as in the other big opera project in this series, Les troyens, to use the format of CD with maximum benefit. So the First Act is complete on the first two discs, with each of the two tableaux (six scenes in the first, seven in the second) taking up a whole disc each. That leaves the third disc for the whole of the Second Act, over 70 minutes meaning that there is no unnecessary break anywhere. The sound too remains very vivid, with the firmness of focus and sense of presence characteristic of Philips engineering of the period all the more apparent on CD. The orchestra is not quite so forward as in some of the Davis Berlioz series, but that sets the stage picture the more clearly, and even the most complex scenes notably the final scene of the casting—are sharpened by the separation of voices. What is not so welcome is that there seems to be rather more treble emphasis than usual, occasionally to the point of fierceness, but that is something which will very much depend on individual hi-fi equipment. I should prefer to have had that brightness compensated by more body in the orchestral sound, but that is to be hyper-critical. This is a superb set, which as in the original issue comes with generous essays as well as libretto. David Cairns's essay on the romantic cult of the Artist-hero, is particularly valuable, along with its explanation of Davis's text, which restores cuts enforced in Liszt's Weimar version and presents the piece (as at Covent Garden) as an extended opera-comique with dialogue. -- Edward Greenfield, Gramophone [1/1989]