Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Rattle conducts Berlioz' La damnation de Faust

Sir Simon Rattle & the London Symphony Orchestra (Photo Tristram Kenton)
Sir Simon Rattle & the London Symphony Orchestra
(Photo Tristram Kenton)
Berlioz La damnation de Faust; Bryan Hymel, Karen Cargill, Christopher Purves, London Symphony Orchestra, Simon Rattle; Barbican Hall
Reviewed by Anthony Evans on Sep 17 2017 Star rating: 4.0
A beautiful ride to Hell, although at times I wanted to feel the words a little more keenly and have my roller-coaster ride a bit rougher

The fable of selling one’s soul to the devil for a dream is a tale as old as time. Our perpetual fascination with tales of Faust, in particular, have cemented him into our storytelling culture. Goethe’s tragedy alone has inspired more composers than you can shake a stick at. Sir Simon Rattle chose Berlioz's La damnation de Faust as part of his opening season of concerts at music director of the London Symphony Orchestra. On Sunday 17 September at the Barbican, Rattle conducted the LSO, London Symphony Chorus, Tiffin Boys’ Choir, Tiffin Girls’ Choir, Tiffin Children’s Chorus and soloists Bryan Hymel (Faust), Karen Cargill (Marguerite), Christopher Purves (Mephistopheles) and Gabor Bretz (Brander)

Berlioz’s concert opera or dramatic legend, as Beecham pointed out, “has a bunch of the loveliest tunes in existence”. It’s a flamboyant and powerfully evocative work full of humour, beauty and violence. It’s a rollercoaster ride from the immensity of nature through to the pandemonium of damnation. Rattle and the LSO along with a precisely drilled chorus painted a nuanced and startling vivid portrait of an inexorable journey to perdition.

I confess to a somewhat factious relationship with Berlioz’s Faust. As with my emotional response to Proust, I recognise the beauty but the protagonists’ intellectual hubris and poetic ennui can all too easily make my teeth itch. For me personally it’s success as a whole depends on the vocal interpretations. The vocal writing is not just bel canto – expression and meaning need to come first.

Christopher Purves (Mephistopheles), standing in for an indisposed Gerald Finley, was charming, cynical and mockingly unctuous. If I missed anything it would be a certain orotund authority. Karen Cargill’s Marguerite was the very picture of naivety. Her ballad of faithfulness and “D’amour l’ardente flamme” were achingly poignant – Marguerite was a sitting duck. The American tenor Bryan Hymel was steely voiced, heroic of tone with a beautiful legato so much so I could quite happily have slapped him around the face with a wet kipper. His Faust gets what’s coming to him and his demise “c’est bien”. Caveat emptor. A beautiful ride to Hell then, although at times I wanted to feel the words a little more keenly and have my rollercoaster ride a bit rougher.
Reviewed by Anthony Evans

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