BERLIOZ: Harold in Italy; Reverie et Caprice; Roman Carnival Ov.; Benvenuto Cellini Ov. – Lise Berthaud, viola/Givanni Radivo, violin/Orch. National de Lyon/ Leonard Slatkin – Naxos Pure Audio

BERLIOZ: Harold in Italy; Reverie et Caprice; Roman Carnival Overture; Benvenuto Cellini Overture – Lise Berthaud, viola/Givanni Radivo, violin/Orch. National de Lyon/ Leonard Slatkin – Naxos Pure Audio Blu-ray NBD0042, 70:30 (96K/24-bit, 5.1 & 2.0) ****1/2:

This month’s audio-only Blu-ray release from Naxos doesn’t break any 80-minute SACD limit by combining two CD releases, but is nevertheless an exciting interpretation of this great Berlioz work inspired by Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. Berlioz originally intended it for the great violinist-composer Paganini, and its complete subtitle is Symphony in Four Parts for Viola Obbligato.  This recording follows on the heels of Slatkin’s previous Blu-ray effort, the Symphonie fantastique (which we somehow missed reviewing). The two may also be regarded as the First and Second Symphonies of Berlioz.

Berlioz said the solo viola would be involved in a series of orchestral scenes while retaining its own character: that of a sort of melancholy dreamer during its poetic wanderings. It represents the character of Harold. The fourth movement, Orgy of the Brigands, is the most exciting part of the work and a favorite of audiophiles. At this time the brigand was considered an avenger of social injustice and a rebel against the city.

There is a great clarity and detail in this Blu-ray—should be, considering it’s double the price of the CD version. However, the sonics are hugely better than the CD, or any CD version. However, Berthaud’s viola doesn’t seem to have the bite and forward thrust of William Primrose’s on the RCA Living Stereo three-channel SACD from BMG.  The rich and full interpretation of the Byronic fantasy is not comprised in the least by the lack of surround channels, and Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony Orchestra come across with somewhat less clarity but more oomph than the recording made 55 years later. Also one gets only two of the colorful Berlioz overtures, though probably the best ones. On the Living Stereo SACD we get four of them, and at a bargain price.

—John Sunier

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