Robin Ticciati / Scottish Chamber Orchestra

Berlioz: Les nuits d'été; La mort de Cléopâtre

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Many aspects of this Berlioz release might be controversial if considered on their own. Conductor Robin Ticciati and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra nod in the direction of historically informed performance with rather dry, largely vibrato-free strings. The words "chamber orchestra" don't naturally come to mind in connection with Berlioz, and there's the suspicion that performing him this way has budget-cutting at its root. You might say they're a bit underpowered in the love music from Roméo et Juliette and the early cantata La mort de Cléopâtre, and the voice of mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill doesn't quite blossom at the top as desired in that somewhat over-the-top work. You might feel that there's a British restraint about the whole operation that misses the point of Berlioz. And none, absolutely none of it matters, for Cargill's marquee performance of Les nuits d'été is breathtaking. She absolutely nails the deliberate sensuousness of this work, the hovering sense of mystery, the vocally punishing long lines. The sheer beauty of Cargill's voice is worth the price of admission by itself. That beauty never sacrifices elocution at its own altar, and it develops into a series of distinct shades for each of Théophile Gautier's poems, including the uncanny "Au cimitière" (At the Cemetery, track 5). The scale of Ticciati's performances also works in this somewhat more intimate (for Berlioz) piece, and Linn's engineers, working in Edinburgh's Usher Hall, deliver superior clarity. Whatever you think of all the rest of it, this is one of the best recordings of Les nuits d'été available.

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