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RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR

December

The only hint that this recording is taken from live performances is the sheer adrenalin that pours through Berlioz’s set pieces

Mark Pullinger is bowled over by an epic new recording of Berlioz’s Les Troyens, caught live in Strasbourg with a luxury cast under the direction of John Nelson

Berlioz Les Troyens Joyce DiDonato mez �Didon Michael Spyres ten �Énée Marie-Nicole Lemieux contr �Cassandre Stéphane Degout bar �Chorèbe Hanna Hipp mez �Anna Nicolas Courjal bass �Narbal Philippe Sly bass-bar �Panthée Marianne Crebassa mez �Ascagne Cyrille Dubois ten �Iopas Stanislas de Barbeyrac ten �Hylas/Hélénus Jean Teitgen bass �Ghost of Hector/Mercure Bertrand Grunenwald bass �Priam Jérôme Varnier bass Frédéric Caton bar �Sentinels Opéra National du Rhin Chorus; Baden State Opera Chorus; Strasbourg Philharmonic Chorus and Orchestra / John Nelson Erato B d 9029 57622-0 (3h 54’ • DDD) Recorded live at the Salle Erasmé, Strasbourg, April 15, 17 & 18, 2017 Bonus DVD includes highlights from the concert on April 15, 2017 Includes synopsis, libretto and translation

Hector Berlioz’s epic opera Les Troyens has been lucky on disc. Complete recordings have been few but they’ve tended to be crackers: Colin Davis, that greatest of Berlioz champions, recorded it twice, first with the forces of the Royal Opera for Philips and then, in concert, with the London Symphony Orchestra, while Charles Dutoit made a very fine studio recording in Montreal.

Assembling a cast capable of doing justice to Troyens is no easy task and spying the line-up for a pair of concert performances in Strasbourg over the Easter weekend this year immediately had me salivating. A roster of star names such as Joyce DiDonato, Michael Spyres, Marie-Nicole Lemieux and Stéphane Degout would, I’d respectfully suggest, lie beyond the usual budget of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg, hinting at funding by a record label. It transpired that Warner Classics had put the cast together for this outstanding new recording under John Nelson on Erato, taken from both concerts plus a patching session. I attended the second of those concerts in the red, Lego-brick auditorium of the Salle Erasmé and was duly bowled over by some extraordinary music-making. Happily, listening to these discs quickly confirmed those initial impressions. What is immediately apparent is what splendid results the engineers have achieved. The only hint that this recording is taken from live performances is the sheer adrenalin that pours through Berlioz’s spectacular set pieces, such as the visceral Royal Hunt and Storm from Act 4 (though what a shame there’s no SACD surroundsound to do full justice to the brass and chorus deployed around the auditorium here). The sound is full and forward and beefy, with none of the cramped acoustics that limit Davis’s LSO recording, made in the Barbican Hall. Nelson has conducted Les Troyens more than anyone else over the last 40 years and his experience draws remarkable playing from the OPS, which holds its own against classy competition on disc. Nelson is in no great rush, allowing Berlioz’s music time to breathe where necessary, satin strings to the fore, but he gives his players full rein in moments of high drama, especially the dramatic introduction to Act 2, with its bristling double basses. The mercurial woodwind-writing leaps out of the speakers, as do the bass trombone snarls as we learn of the sea serpent swallowing Laocoön. Three choruses, drawn from the Opéra National du Rhin, the Staatstheater Karlsruhe and

28 GRAMOPHONE RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR 2017

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