Berlioz - Cantatas
Michèle Lagrange (soprano), Béatrice Uria-Monzon (mezzo-soprano), Daniel Galvez Vallejo (tenor)
Choeur Régional Nord/Pas-de-Calais, Orchestre Nationale de Lille, Jean-Claude Casadesus
Apart from the operas, Berlioz wrote a large number of vocal works. Between 1827 and 1830, he attempted the coveted Prix de Rome on four occasions, winning at his final attempt. This prize, established for musicians by Napoleon, brought with it a stay of two years in Rome at the Villa Medici, and was a significant honour for any ambitious young composer. The four now little-known Prix de Rome Cantatas, including the fascinating Herminie whose introduction was later to become the idée fixe of the Symphonie fantastique are brought together on this recording in the year of the bicentenary celebrations of Berlioz’s birth.
“To have on a single disc Berlioz's four attempts at the Prix de Rome, or at least as much of them as survives, was one of the most enjoyable fruits of the bicentenary year. Together they present a vivid portrait of the composer in his twenties, a Janus figure looking at once back to Gluck and forward to the more highly coloured, Romantic products of the mid-19th century. These four works are all the more extraordinary for being based on a format devised by someone else – something Berlioz preferred to avoid after BenvenutoCellini; even here he couldn't resist adding at times to the texts provided.
He tried to destroy La mort de Sardanapale, his prize-winning cantata of 1830, and only its end has survived by accident. Like its predecessors, it deals with an extreme situation. To that extent they all chimed in with Berlioz's natural propensities for shaking and stirring audiences, even to the point of aural discomfort.
It's fascinating to find so many features of the mature Berlioz already in place: the ubiquitous diminished sevenths, the hitching up of tonalities by semitones, the love of descending scales (as in the wonderful line for Cléopâtre's 'Il n'en est plus pour moi que l'éternelle nuit', which could be Dido in Les troyens some 30 years later). The poetic Berlioz is also in evidence, notably in the beautiful Nature-music that opens La mort d'Orphée, his earliest attempt from 1827.
The contribution of the solo singers on this disc belongs more to the 19th century than to the 18th, which is possibly what Berlioz would have wanted. That's to say, all three voices are dramatic in size and style. There's some spreading at the top of all three above mezzo forte, but in giving their all they're merely taking a cue from Berlioz's orchestra, which, under Casadesus's firm direction, miraculously already sounds like the Berlioz we know. In softer passages all three are excellent.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
(also available to download from $6.00)
Usually despatched in 2 - 3 working days. (Available now to download.)