Vintage LP Berlioz: Nuits d'ete; La Mort de Cleopatre (Death of Cleopatra). BBC SO, Boulez conductor
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Written by Hector Berlioz
Berlioz, the passionate, ardent, irrepressible genius of French Romanticism, left a rich and original oeuvre which exerted a profound influence on nineteenth century music. Berlioz developed a profound affinity toward music and literature as a child. Sent to Paris at 17 to study medicine, he was enchanted by Gluck's operas, firmly deciding to become a composer. With his father's reluctant consent, Berlioz entered the Paris Conservatoire in 1826. His originality was already apparent and disconcerting â€” a competition cantata, ClÃ©opÃ¢tre (1829), looms as his first sustained masterpiece â€” and he won the Prix de Rome in 1830 amid the turmoil of the July Revolution. Meanwhile, a performance of Hamlet in September 1827, with Harriet Smithson as Ophelia, provoked an overwhelming but unrequited passion, whose aftermath may be heard in the Symphonie fantastique (1830).
Absence, song for voice & orchestra, (Les Nuits d'Ã©tÃ©), H. 85 (Op. 7/4)
Berlioz was a frustrated opera composer. The fiasco which overtook the Paris OpÃ©ra's premiere of Benvenuto Cellini in 1838 forced him to seek alternatives which would allow his dramatic richness of conception to be aired without actual staging. In the upshot, the loose form of a "dramatic symphony" for soloists, chorus, and orchestra, achieved in RomÃ©o et Juliette (1839), allowed him to focus upon salient moments from Shakespeare's play, freed from the entanglements of a complex narrative. The concentration achieved thereby helped Berlioz temper his unique power, grandeur, and sheer flair with a new delicacy and refinement. The next step was taken in 1840 with the six songs of Les Nuits d'Ã©tÃ©, to poems by the arch-Romantic, ThÃ©ophile Gautier, of which Absence is the most poignant â€” a cri de coeur whose distilled drama is all the more powerful for being implicit and allusive. Scored for piano and mezzo, this lament unfolds with a melodic eloquence in which the ache for the absent lover is palpable and breathtakingly gripping â€” a world of heartbreak conjured in a few telling phrases.
Sung by Yvonne Minton (Mezzo-soprano)
This tall, comely and aristocratic mezzo-soprano from Australia achieved fame in the 1970s, propelled by the mentoring of Georg Solti (who engaged her for several important recordings) and her cool (but inwardly passionate) and dignified presence on-stage. Yvonne Minton was also a concert artist of the first order, appearing with many of the world's ranking orchestras under leading conductors. She was perhaps the finest Octavian of her time, that role serving as her calling card in several prominent houses. She was a dignified, consoling Angel in Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius, equaled only by Janet Baker.
and Stuart Burrows (Tenor)
Though his voice sometimes lacked individuality, Stuart Burrows was in many ways an ideal Mozart and French lyric tenor, flexible and with a seemingly seamless technique. He was also scrupulous musician, known for saying that a role can be memorized but never fully learned, that there is always more to add and rethink. While he occasionally and carefully sang some heavier roles, such as Lensky in Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, Alfredo in Verdi's La traviata, Gounod's Faust, and even the title role in Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffmann, he never, as many of his predecessors and successors did, forced and harmed his voice by choosing the wrong repertoire.
Performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra
conducted by PIERRE BOULEZ
Pierre Boulez (b. 1925), French composer, conductor, and music theorist, is regarded as a leading composer of the post-Webern serialist movement who also embraced elements of aleatory and electronics. As a child Boulez demonstrated a formidable aptitude in mathematics, but left for Paris in 1942 to enroll in the Paris Conservatoire. His studies there often ran into difficulties, as he was rapidly developing revolutionary â€” "Praise be to amnesia" â€” attitudes towards all things traditional. But two decisive influences during those years helped to shape his musical personality. The first was Messiaen's famous analysis course, the other was RenÃ© Leibowitz, who introduced him to serial music, where Boulez found "a harmonic and contrapuntal richness and a capacity for development an extension of a kind I have never found anywhere else."
La Mort de ClÃ©opÃ¢tre, for soprano & orchestra, H.36
La Mort de ClÃ©opÃ¢tre (The Death of Cleopatra) was Berlioz's third attempt to win the Prix de Rome from the Academie des Beaux-Arts. His first attempt in 1827 was La Mort d'OrphÃ©e, which failed to place. His second attempt in 1828 was Herminie, which took second place. Berlioz called La Mort de ClÃ©opÃ¢tre "a lyric scene" for soprano and orchestra, setting a text by P.A. Vieillard. The vocal writing is extremely dramatic, but it ignores distinctions between recitative and aria, which infuriated the jury. The orchestral writing is lush and full, with extraordinary harmonies that likewise alienated the jury. La Mort de ClÃ©opÃ¢tre was judged such a failure in the eyes of the Academie that it gave no first place prize that year. The following year, Berlioz won the Prix de Rome with his conservative La Mort de Sardanapale, but, having already composed his wildly experimental and incredibly wild Symphonie fantastique, he found that he no longer cared all that much about the Academie.
Also sung by Yvonne Minton and performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Pierre Boulez