Any Berlioz recording by Valery Gergiev promises to be an exciting tour de force, but considering that this disc is also an audiophile recording of the London Symphony Orchestra in concert, it promises even more. There are few composers more dynamic and startling in originality than Berlioz, and his Harold en Italie is one of the most innovative works in the Romantic repertoire: part symphonic poem avant la lettre, based on Lord Byron's poem, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage; part autobiographical symphony, in the manner of its immediate predecessor, the Symphonie fantastique; and part concerto, for the viola soloist. Gergiev maintains a strong tension from the outset, and paces Harold en Italie with an urgency and emotional fire that are rare, and violist Antoine Tamestit brings a dramatic flair to his part, in contrast with more purely lyrical interpretations that tend toward the introspective. In the cantata, La mort de Cléopâtre, mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill projects a similar kind of intensity and presence, and the lyricism and passion of the music is heightened in her collaboration with Gergiev and the LSO. The sound of this hybrid SACD is vivid and close-up, so every detail of the performances can be heard, as well as some incidental noises in the live setting.
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