SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

* BERLIOZ: Seven Overtures [TrackList follows] – Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/ Sir Andrew Davis – Chandos

A brilliant hi-res surround recording of the seven Berlioz Overtures.

Published on March 27, 2013


* BERLIOZ: Seven Overtures [TrackList follows] – Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/ Sir Andrew Davis – Chandos multichannel SACD CHSA 5118, 72:52 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

At first I had thought this was another Sir Colin Davis recording of Berlioz Overtures, his previous RCA standard CD being a real winner, but no, it’s another British conductor Davis, who is currently principal conductor of the Chicago Lyric Opera, chief conductor of the Melbourne Symphony and conductor laureate of both the Toronto Symphony and the BBC Symphony. He was also recently Music Advisor to the Pittsburgh Symphony for two years.

This Davis has just as terrific a way with the Berlioz overtures as the other Davis. The varying moods of these seven overtures show off the amazing abilities of Berlioz in the overture department.  His overtures are to me much more dazzling and fascinating listening than most other opera overtures. These seven overtures have almost become the “Magnificent Seven” as far as recordings are concerned. There are a few other competitors on SACD: George Szell only conducts one of them on an old Columbia stereo-only SACD, the Roman Carnival, but what a performance! Sir Alexander Gibson does six of the seven with the London Philharmonic on Membran and does an excellent job. The RCA Living Stereo 3-channel SACD featuring Harold in Italy is filled out with four of the overtures conducted by Charles Munch with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The gutsy and elegant sonics of these late-50s recordings stand up well today, but it is nice to also have the other two surround channels, and an even cleaner and high-res recording in the Chandos.

The Bergen Philharmonic is one of the world’s oldest orchestras and it currently has the youngest average age players of any of the major European symphonies. It is also a very large orchestra, which makes it perfect for the later of these Berlioz overtures (they’re not in chronological order). The Grieg Hall in which Chandos recorded the disc has excellent acoustics for these works, and the engineers did a fine job capturing all the inner details of these energetic creations. The Bis label also records in this hall but don’t use as high a sampling rate and the Chandos effort is clearly superior. The Roman Carnival is my personal favorite, probably because in college I played bass drum in it. The light humorous mood of the Beatrice and Benedict Overture (coming from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing) contrasts with the seriousness of the lengthier Le Francs-juges (about a secret society in medieval Germany) and the longest overture of all seven is the grand King Lear at over a quarter-hour.

Le Corsaire Ov., Ov. to Beatrice et Benedict, Ov. to Les Francs-juges, Roman Carnival Ov., Waverly Grande Ov., Le Roi Lear Grande Ov., Ov. to Benvenuto Cellini

—John Sunier

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