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Hector Berlioz: The Great Classical Collection Box set
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This 10-CD set presents a wide-ranging collection of the works of the 19th century French composer Hector Berlioz. Included here are his two great purely orchestral pieces, Symphonie Fantastique and Harold in Italy, alongside music from the dramatic works Romeo and Juliet and The Damnation of Faust. Also featured are his monumental choral requiem Grande Messe des Morts, the song cycle Les Nuits d'Été, and a selection of some of his best known overtures.
Some of the recordings in this set are considered to be amongst the best ever made, including an exceptional recording of the Grande Messe des Morts conducted by Hermann Scherchen and produced in 1958 in L'Église Saint-Louis des Invalides, where the piece had received its premiere in 1837. Another classic performance featured is that of the oratorio La damnation de Faust made in 1959 and directed by Igor Markevich, a conductor who became especially revered for his interpretations of Berlioz. The French conductor Charles Munch was also recognised as a Berlioz specialist, and a rarely-heard recording of him directing a performance of the sacred trilogy L'Enfance du Christ, one which originated in the U.S.A in 1957, is also included.
Among the legendary vocal soloists featured are Gérard Souzay, Victoria de los Angeles and Cesare Valletti, In addition, many of the greatest orchestras in the world, including the Berlin Philharmonic, the Royal Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony, and L'Orchestre du Théâtre National de l'Opéra can be heard in the collection conducted by the likes of Lorin Maazel, André Cluytens and Sir Charles Mackerras.
Top Customer Reviews
The box set is made of cardboard of reasonable thickness. The lid opens sideways, where you can place the CDs you wish to play, or the sleeves of those CDs already on the turntable. The basic colour of the box is a very light cream. With the CD numbers, music, orchestra and conductors on the back. The 10 Sleeves are all the same, and have the picture of Berlioz, as the the front of the box, as well as the piece of music to be played. Creamy coloured, with the music to be played on the back, as well as the track numbers, with orchestra and conductor. The sound is Mono or stereo. Compact disc Digital audio. ADD. The sound is good. I am no tech head so I cannot go into precise details. The box set is released by the Intense group which is really Membran. The CDs are taken mainly from RCA and DGG.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Performers and track lists are shown on the box and the backs of the sleeves. There are NO LINER NOTES, so if you need texts/translations, you will have to get them elsewhere.
This set includes Charles Munch's recordings of "Harold en Italie," "Les Nuits d'été," and "L'Enfance du Christ." There is no "Te Deum" and nothing from the operas. "Roméo et Juliette" is represented by orchestral excerpts only (no vocals). "La Damnation de Faust" is not complete and contains some cuts.
The low price and compact packaging are definitely pluses with this set. It is also a great way to access several hard-to-find vintage recordings at a single shot. There is no duplication of music, either; you won't get four recordings of the same piece, for example.
While vintage recordings are expected to have dated acoustics, the engineered sound is troublesome with many of these recordings, even the ones from the 1990s. There is noticeable distortion in loud passages and in any passages featuring a chorus. The recorded sound of the Requiem (CD-6, 7) is particularly bad, probably a cheap transfer of an otherwise acceptable recording. On the other hand, "La Damnation de Faust" from 1959 sounds *very* good.
- Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14 (recorded 1954)
Berlin Philharmonic, Igor Markevitch
- Le carnaval romain Overture, Op. 9 (recorded 1994)
Royal Philharmonic, Charles Mackerras
The Berlioz Collection devotes the first disc to the two Berlioz warhorses. "Symphonie fantastique" was one of Berlioz' early successes; it was written in 1830 shortly after completing studies in Italy. "Le carnaval romain" was a concert overture written 1844 featuring themes from Berlioz' first opera, Benvenuto Cellini (1838). Unlike the poorly received opera, the overture enjoyed many public performances.
While the Berlin Philharmonic is normally a safe bet, the recorded sound in this 1954 reading of "Symphonie fantastique" is terribly dated and distorted. This is especially troublesome when trying to appreciate the novel instrumentation in the last movement. The tubular bells sound like misshapen gongs.
Despite its 1994 date, the recorded sound of "Le carnaval romain" is very disappointing. At one point the violins sound as if they were using their mutes. I suspect this was a bad transfer.
- Harold en Italie, Op. 16 (recorded 1958)
William Primrose (viola),
Boston Symphony Orchestra, Charles Munch
"Harold en Italie" was Berlioz' second symphony; it was written in 1834 at Paganini's request for viola music. Paganini, who wrote at least six concertos of his own, was initially disappointed with the score. But after hearing it in concert in 1838, reversed his opinion and sent Berlioz 20,000 francs.
Primrose and Boston Symphony Orchestra were the performers in one of the earliest recordings of "Harold en Italie" back in 1944 (not counting the 1939 radio broadcast with Primrose and Toscanini). So if nothing else, this 1958 reunion of sorts has great historical value. Primrose is a real showman; you can hear his bow digging into his instrument throughout. Still, it would've been nice if the soloist was miked a little more closely.
- Les Nuits d'été, Op. 7 (recorded 1955)
Victoria de los Angeles (soprano),
Boston Symphony Orchestra, Charles Munch
Les Nuits d'été (Summer Nights) is a six-movement song cycle on poems by Theophile Gautier. Written initially for voice and piano (1841), Berlioz' orchestral arrangement of 1856 is the usual performance mode today. Les Nuits d'été can be performed by any voice range. Victoria de los Angeles and the Boston Symphony Orchestra come off splendidly even with the dated 1955 sound.
CD-3: Roméo et Juliette, Op. 17 (excerpts) (recorded 1957)
Lorin Maazel, Berlin Philharmonic
Written in 1839, the original "Roméo et Juliette" is a seven-movement symphony interspersed with additional sections for voice. This 1957 recording extracts four of the orchestral movements and arranges them into a standard 4-movement symphony. "Scene d'amour" (Love Scene) is placed after "La reine Mab" (Queen Mab) to simulate the Scherzo-Slow movement of the typical symphony. Also, the choral intro in "Scene d'amour" is omitted. This is a rare chance to hear a 27-year Lorin Maazel conducting a major European orchestra.
CD-4, 5: La Damnation de Faust, Op. 24 (recorded 1959)
Faust: Richard Verreau - tenor; Méphistophélès: Michel Roux - bass; Marguerite: Consuelo Rubio - mezzo; Brander: Pierre Mollet - baritone,
Choeur Enfants RTF & Orchestre Lamoureux Paris, Igor Markevitch
This is *not* a complete performance of Faust; there are cuts (see CD-4, track 6; CD-5, track 14). Richard Verreau and Consuelo Rubio may not be household names, but they both have big, full-throated voices that are perfect for moments like Marguerite's Romance ("D'amour l'ardente flamme") and Faust's Invocation to Nature. (Verreau , however, comes off a bit under-pitched in his high B-natural in the Love Duet.) I thought Michel Roux was too light for Méphistophélès; he occasionally sounds more like a tenor than a bass. The chorus is under-staffed, with individual voices audible at times. Their frequent attempts at vocal dramatics come off sloppy; the "Amen" Fugue was ghastly. The orchestra is top-notch; I loved the Retreat that opens CD-5.
Of all the 1950s selections in this set, this 1959 recording has by far the best engineered sound - it is *very* good. Still, it would've been nice to have a libretto on hand.
CD-6, 7: Grande Messe des Morts, Op. 5 (Requiem) (recorded 1958)
(produced in 1958 in L'Église Saint-Louis des Invalides, where the piece had received its premiere in 1837)
Jean Giraudeau (tenor),
Chorus of Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française, Theatre Orchestra of Paris National Opera, Hermann Scherchen
At a total time of 98", this is one of the longest recordings of the Berlioz Requiem on record. I have nothing against slow tempos as long as the performance is good. Unfortunately, this one isn't. The chorus sounds under-rehearsed and under-staffed. Their singing is plagued with late entrances and lack of ensemble. Their occasional downward swoops suggest poor vocal training as well. Jean Giraudeau's solo is too cautious, as if the music might break if he sings too loud. The transfer is very poor, resulting in muddled sound; there is severe distortion whenever the volume gets too high. The miking of the choir is inconsistent and uneven. At times, the men sound closer than the women; at other times, the whole chorus sounds like they have been moved a hundred feet away. The long reverberation time in the L'Église Saint-Louis des Invalides only adds to the muddy sound. The orchestra seems on top of things, but even their sound is significantly hurt by the poor engineering.
CD-8: Overtures (recorded 1995)
1. Benvenuto Cellini Overture
2. Les Francs-juges Overture, Op. 3
3. Le Corsaire Overture, Op. 21
4. Béatrice et Bénédict, Op. 27: Overture
5. Waverley Overture Op. 1
6. King Lear Overture, Op. 4
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Alexander Gibson
The six overtures in Disc 8 were all recorded in 1995, but unlike Disc 1, these recordings have the fine sound that one would expect from newer CDs. Gibson and the Royal Philharmonic give scintillating performances of these highly virtuosic pieces.
At a total time of 63", this disc could easily have fit a second, better sounding recording of "Le carnaval romain." Sadly, we are stuck with the poor transfer of the Mackerras recording in Disc 1.
CD-9, 10: L'Enfance du Christ, Op. 25 (recorded 1957)
Story Teller: Cesare Valletti - tenor;
Maria: Florence Kopleff - alto;
Joseph: Gérard Souzay - baritone;
Polydorus, Herodes (father of a family): Giorgio Tozzi - bass;
The New England Conservatory Chorus & Boston Symphony Orchestra, Charles Munch
With its all-star cast, this 1957 reading of "L'Enfance du Christ" should have been a memorable listening experience. But once again, the poorly engineered sound proved a serious distraction. The soloists were all satisfying, although Valletti clearly needed a language coach. The chorus was often distorted by bad engineering; their "far-away" off-stage passages are nearly inaudible. Also irritating was the lack of tracks: there is only a single track for each of the three sections.
I am VERY disappointed with "L'Enfance du Christ", with Gerard Souzay, which was my principal reason for buying this set. I remembered a smashingly fine LP of a Souzay performance of this piece and hoped to be purchasing a good dub. In fact, this dub is execrable! It sounds as if it were taken from a worn LP! A low roar is constantly in the background; it differs between the two channels, suggesting that someone merely played a mono recording on a stereo cartridge and faithfully recorded all the asymmetrical wear and tear. My rear A-B channel delivers nothing but garbage and distortion.
A true mono version, shared equally between the two channels, would have been much better!
Not all discs are bad: the 1995 recording of Overtures (Gibson, Royal Philharmonic) sounds fine. But no one will be buying the box for that. If you were looking for the performances you remember fondly from LP days, this set will be massively disappointing.
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