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CD Review

Hector Berlioz

Orchestral Works

  • Harold en Italie *
  • Overture "Le carnaval romain"
  • Réverie et Caprice **
  • Overture "Benvenuto Cellini"
* Lise Berthaud, viola
** Giovanni Radivo, violin
Orchestre National de Lyon/Leonard Slatkin
Naxos 8.573297 70:30
Find it at AmazonFind it at Amazon UKFind it at Amazon GermanyFind it at Amazon CanadaFind it at Amazon FranceFind it at Amazon Japan
Also available on Blu-ray Audio NBD0042:
Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan

Before I even received this disc as a promotional copy, I had read three other reviews of this disc; two were ecstatic, one was scathing. I figured the truth to be somewhere in the middle, and so it proves. I'm inclined to lean toward the "scathing" side of middle, but clearly other critics found a great deal to admire. Leonard Slatkin's work in Lyon has graded out in this fashion, a mixture of admiration and disappointment that has very little middle ground. As someone who watches him week in and week out here in Detroit, I'm not really surprised. There is some good on this disc, and a lot of bad.

First, the good: Lise Berthaud is a fine violist. Her attack on Harold en Italie proves invigorating and committed. Leonard Slatkin is mostly excellent as her partner, having demonstrated an affinity for French music over the decades. The woodwinds – also a strength of his tenure here in Detroit – prove mostly able and impress. The conductor leads with his customary combination of elegance and excitement, and you never doubt he has real feeling for the pieces at hand. There's the good.

The bad is quite bad. Whatever Slatkin brings to the party cannot trump the mediocrity of his orchestra. The strings and brass simply aren't an asset. They sound unpleasant at times. The acoustics are variable and often overly dry. Occasionally, it feels like the sound simply "drops", and balances are unrealistic. The couplings are somewhat lackluster and poorly played. The English horn solo in the Romain Carnaval is probably the least imaginative available. Actually, the whole performance is rather terrible, with an almost starling lack of drama. The Benvenuto Cellini Overture is markedly improved; not a great reading, but noticeably more engaging. Again though, the playing is surprisingly unattractive. Here the strings sound better, and the winds falter. What gives? About the Réverie et Caprice very little need be said; Radivo is an adequate, if somewhat screechy soloist. Pass on this one. It isn't as terrible as some say, but nor is it as good.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman