Vesselina Kasarova / Ivor Bolton / Sinfonieorchester Basel

Berlioz: Of Madness and Love

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The dramas of William Shakespeare were a powerful influence on Hector Berlioz, and plays such as Romeo and Juliet and King Lear inspired some of his most impressive music. This album by Ivor Bolton and the Basel Symphony Orchestra presents the Grande Ouverture du Roi Lear and the Scène d'amour from Romeo et Juliet (Symphonie dramatique), which were directly inspired by Shakespeare. However, the cantata, La mort de Cléopâtre, which Berlioz composed on a prescribed text by Pierre-Ange Vieillard for the Prix de Rome, and the Rêverie et caprice for violin and orchestra, which was based on music from his opera, Benvenuto Cellini, only seem Shakespearean in a tangential way, if at all. To be sure, the passion Berlioz felt for Shakespeare lasted throughout his adult life, so a case can be made that all four selections convey the heightened emotions that the theater fired in his imagination, whether a connection can be made to a specific play or not. (Indirectly, but famously, Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique was inspired by Irish actress Harriet Smithson, whose performances of Shakespeare fueled his love for her and led eventually to their disastrous marriage.) In any event, this album captures the flights of emotion and depths of despair that characterize Berlioz's best music, and the performances by mezzo-soprano Vesselina Kasarova in Cleopâtre and violinist Soyoung Yoon in the Rêverie et caprice are exceptional for their soaring lyricism. The recording by the orchestra's own label is vibrant and resonant, capturing the full effect of Berlioz's orchestration with remarkable depth and presence.

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