Berlioz – Harold en Italie

Berlioz – Harold en Italie

Chrétien Urhan
Chrétien Urhan

Pierre Lenert, alto super soloist of the Orchestra of the Paris Opera (appointed 19 years …) recently pointed out that it was his predecessor as solo viola in the orchestra of the Opera of Paris, Christian Urban (1790-1845) who created the work in 1834 with the Conservatory Orchestra.
We have access to thirty edited versions, in addition to a concert by Kubelik I put on Youtube.
Here is the list of published recordings I’ve reconstructed:

William Primrose NBC Symphony Orchestra Arturo Toscanini 1939
William Primrose Boston symphony orchestra Serge Koussevitzky 1944
Gunther Breitenbach Vienna symphony Rudolf Moralt 1950
William Primrose Royal Philharmonic orchestra Thomas Beecham 1952
Frederick Riddle London Philharmmonic orchestra Hermann Scherchen 1953
Joseph de Pasquale Boston Symphony Orchestra Charles Munch 1954
Ladislav Cerny Czech Philharmonic orchestra Vaclav Jiracek 1955
Heinz Kirchner Berliner philharmoniker Igor Markevitch 1956
Carlton Cooley NBC Symphony Orchestra Arturo Toscanini 1956
Frederick Riddle Royal Philharmonic orchestra Thomas Beecham 1956
William Primrose Boston symphony orchestra Charles Munch 1958
Ladislav Černý Česká filharmonie Vaclav Jiracek 1959
William Lincer New York Philharmonic Orchestra Leonard Bernstein 1962
Klaas Boon Concertgebouw orchestra Pierre Monteux 1963
Rudolf Barshai Moscow Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra David Oïstrakh 1964
Georg Schmid Bavarian radio-symphony orchester Rafael Kubelik 1964
Walter Trampler London symphony prchestra Georges Prêtre 1969
Mikhail Tolpygo State Symphony Orchestra of the USSR David Oïstrakh 1972
Claude Durocq Orchestre philharmonique de Strasbourg Alain Lombard 1974
Daniel Benyamini Israël Philharmonic Orchestra Zubin Mehta 1975
Nobuko Imai London symphony orchestra Colin Davis 1975
Joseph Suk Czech Philharmonic orchestra Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau 1976
Donald McInnes Orchestre National De France Leonard Bernstein 1977
Pichas Zukerman Orchestre de Paris Daniel Barnebïom 1977
Robert Vernon Cleveland orchestra Lorin Maazel 1977
Yuri Bashmet Moscow RTV Symphony Orchestra Vladimir Fedoseyev 1981
Lubomir Jaly Czech Philharmonic orchestra Frantisek Jilek 1981
Wolfram Christ Berliner philharmoniker Lorin Maazel 1985
Douglas McNabney Orchestre symphonique de Québec Simon Streatfield 1985
Bruno Pasquier Orchestre de Montpellier Curil Diederich 1987
Pinkas Zuckerman Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal Charles Dutoit 1988
Gérard Caussé Orchestre Du Capitole De Toulouse Michel Plasson 1989
Yehudi Menuhin Philharmonia orchestra Colin Davis 1990
Gérard Caussé Orchestre révolutionnaire et romantique John Eliott Gardiner 1994
Laurent Verney Orchestre de l’Opéra Bastille Myung-Whun Chung 1996
Rivka Golani Orchestre Symphonique de San Diego Yoav Talmi 1996
Bruno Giuranna BBC Symphony orchestra Maxim Shostakovitch 1996
Rivka Golani San Diego Symphony Yoav Talmi 1996
Gérard Caussé Orchestra del Teatro de la Fenice Jean Fournet 1997
Lubiania RSO Anton Nanut 1998
Csaba Erdelyi New Zealand Symphony orchestra Marc Taddei 2001
Tabea Zimmermann London symphony orchestra Colin Davis 2003
Naomo Shimizu Sendai Philharmonic orchestra Kazuhiro Koizumi 2007
Jean-Eric Soucy South West German Radio Symphony Orchestra Sylvain Cambreling 2009
Ulrich Koch Sinfonie Orchester Des Südwestfunks Baden-Baden Jan Latham-Koenig 1992
Antoine Tamestit Les musiciens du Louvre Marc Minkowski 2011
Stefano Passaggio Zagreb Philharmonic orchestra Milan Horvat 2011
Daviid Aaron carpenter Helsinki Philharmonic orchestra Vladimir Ashkenazy 2011
Lise Berthaud Orchestre national de Lyon Leonard Slatkin 2014
Antoine Tamestit London symphony orchestra Valery Gergiev 2014
Milan Telecky Radio Symphony Orchestra Bratislava Onderj Leonard 2014

The specialist of the work, participating in the first recording with Koussevitzky 47 (after a live 1939 with Toscanini) is William Primrose, he will not do it with Toscanini, for the benefit of the other violist of the orchestra, Carlton Cooley, but he pyaed it also with Beecham in 1952 and Munch in 1958.

1st movement – Harold aux montagnes

Primrose / Boston / Koussevitsky – 1947 : The cover shows that the perfectionist Primrose was not very happy with the changes of tempi, especially before his entering …
The oboe disappears quickly behind overly resonant strings, it will be the case in the whole movement, the soloist shows a great command, there is animation, panache often, but it’s pretty shaken as direction. 7

Primrose / Boston / Munch – 1958 :  Everything is better even including the sound of the soloist, everything is in place, every single indication followed. A sign that does not lie: it was a little difficult to follow the score with Koussevitzky, whereas this is not the case here. Superb. 9

Kirchner / Berlin / Markevitch – 1956 : Unable to find any element onHeinz Kirchner, probably the solo viola in the orchestra at the time. Slow tempo. Everything is in great demand in a fluctuating tempo a bit. Beautiful shot her with a very close soloist. The arrival of the soloist with the harp in the background is extremely slow; the soloist, with a somehow perfectible intonation rather sounds like a violin, then it lags a little. The orchestra is thrilling and more nervous, but at least it’s alive.7,5

Cooley / NBC / Toscanini – 1956 : Superb introduction, the harp is this time next to the soloist, which vibrates a lot, then some beautiful climates succeed to some tunnels. 7,5

Černý / Czech Philharmonic / Jiracek – 1954 : Ladislav Černý was a famous soloist, friend of Hindemith, another famous violist … Introduction rather flat. Everything is fairly soft, clear sound capture the playing is a little dated. 6,5

Lincer / New York / Bernstein – 1962 : William Lindsay has held the post of first altist in New York from 1943 to 1972. Introduction lively and spectacular. Beautiful sound of the soloist, but his game is not addictive. A lot of panache to the orchestra but the sound is a bit garish. 7,5

Boon / Concertgebouw / Monteux – Live – 1963 : Klaas Boon was the soloist in the orchestra. Feverish introduction, superbly conducted, harp in the background, very sounorous soloist, but always a beautiful tune. 7

Menuhin / Philharmonia / Davis – 1963 : Beautiful development of tones in the introduction, then I miss attacks, he clearly wants his Berlioz more civilized than rustic. The tempo freezes at the entrance of the soloist, it is almost in the marshmallow. Menuhin is very artist, but the whole thing do not really involve, apart yet beautiful sounds. 7,5

Schmid / Radio bavaroise / Kubelik – 1964 : Lively introduction, superb soloist, it’s pretty clear there were two berliozian conductors: Munch and Kubelik, and we do not laugh please! 9

Benyamini / Israël / Mehta – 1975 : Sound, rhythm, animation, beautiful respect for the score, superb soloist, what else? 9

Imai / London symphony / Davis – 1975 : Another beautiful introduction, stamps darker than 12 years ago. The soloist has a fairly low noise magnitude, this is actually quite pale, even if we will have more orchestral entertainment at the end. 7,5

Bashmet /  Moscow RTV Symphony Orchestra /  Vladimir Fedoseyev – 1981 : Pretty nice introduction, which takes time, brass lack of presence, everything is really slow, the soloist seems very lazy in this tempo, superb soloist, but everything gets bogged down a bit. 7

Christ / Berlin / Maazel – 1981 : Wolfram Christ has been for over twenty years First viola soloist of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra before turning to conducting. Correct entry in a slow tempo, very boring. Nothing really sounds: pasty, amorphous. 5

Pasquier / Montpellier / Diederich – 1987 : Introduction correct, brass not very beautiful, Bruno Pasquier did honor his illustrious family of musicians, elegance, color, accuracy is superb. Balance problems in the orchestra: one does not hear the violins at all times … We will keep this version for the eloquence of the soloist (which seems to be the real musical director here…).8

Zuckerman / Montréal / Dutoit – 1988 : Introduction going, beautiful orchestral sound, soloist with a very full sound, vibrated, a lot of dynamism. 8

Caussé / Toulouse / Plasson – 1988 : Another Frenchie team . Animated introduction, conducted, a soloist with a beautiful style, everything sounds great, it’s very much alive. 8,5

Koch / Sinfonie Orchester Des Südwestfunks Baden-Baden / Latham-Koenig – 1992 : Ulrich Koch: a great artist, relatively few documented on the web. Proper introduction, one of the finest passages viola / harp? Sound recording not very good. 8

Caussé / Orchestre révolutionnaire et romantique / Gardiner – 1994 :  An introduction with a rather soft tone, the soloist is taken from a distance, nothing really sounds. 6

Verney / Opéra Bastille / Chung – 1996 : introduction prettier than inhabited , this is flat. The soloist is taken far enough yet, lack of contrast in his game. All this sounds small. 6

Golani / San Diego / Yoav Talmi – 1996 : Introduction insignificant, the entry of the soloist make you believe that they had all taken Valium before recording, all seems recorded in the lobby of the San Diego station, if it exists. 4

Zimmermann / London symphony / Davis – 2003 : Rathzer weak introduction, lack of going, palots violins. Everything, including soloist, is singularly lacking in sound presence. 6,5

Soucy / South West German Radio Symphony Orchestra / Cambreling – 2009 : The soloist is the first viola in the orchestra. Proper introduction. Superb musicality from the soloist. Everything is a little slow in the orchestra and square. 7,5

Tamestit / Musiciens du Louvre / Minkovski – 2011 : The introduction jumps a little and crawls at a time. Beautiful game from the soloist, but the whole lacks of flare. 7

Tamestit / London symphony / Gergiev – 2014 : From the intro we find back an orchestra, sounding better than the previous version, also better sounding than Davis. The sound is not exceptional. Harp a little behind, but an always elegant soloist. A beautiful version. 7,5

2nd movement – La marche des pèlerins

We keep these 7 versions :

William Primrose Boston symphony orchestra Charles Munch 1958 00:12:12 00:06:46 00:06:33 00:12:30 9
Georg Schmid Bavarian radio-symphony orchester Rafael Kubelik 1964 00:14:18 00:08:28 00:05:53 00:08:44 9
Daniel Benyamini Israël Philharmonic Orchestra Zubin Mehta 1975 00:14:52 00:08:21 00:06:40 00:11:39 9
Gérard Caussé Orchestre Du Capitole De Toulouse Michel Plasson 1989 00:14:33 00:07:52 00:05:55 00:11:45 8,5
Bruno Pasquier Orchestre de Montpellier Cyril Diederich 1987 00:15:38 00:08:59 00:06:29 00:12:51 8
Pinkas Zuckerman Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal Charles Dutoit 1988 00:16:55 00:08:30 00:06:59 00:12:27 8
Ulrich Koch Sinfonie Orchester Des Südwestfunks Baden-Baden Jan Latham-Koenig 1992 00:16:13 00:08:42 00:08:18 00:12:03 8

Primrose / Boston / Munch – 1958 :  Some passages a little struck between the soloist and the orchestra, otherwise it’s very well done, including a decrescendo that does not slow. 8

Schmid / Radio bavaroise / Kubelik – 1964 : It is also well conducted, with more warmth to the strings, decrescendo more taking, imperial soloist. 8,5

Benyamini / Israël / Mehta – 1975 : Indications are less respected, somewhat neutral. 7,5

Caussé / Toulouse / Plasson – 1988 :TBeautiful colours. 8

Pasquier / Montpellier / Diederich – 1987 : Superb violist, all is well led. 8

Zuckerman / Montréal / Dutoit – 1988 : Soloist lacking of presence but beautiful orchestral sound. 8

Koch / Sinfonie Orchester Des Südwestfunks Baden-Baden / Latham-Koenig – 1992 : Soloist sometimes a little behind, but beautiful atmosphere. 8

4th movement – Orgie des brigands

(We pass over the 3rd movement, not very meaningful …). We are not in the fixed idea of Fantasy: repeats from the previous movements are explicitly indicated. We do not know what to think of the work finally: is it vulgar, easy, off-color or on the contrary awesome , exhilarating? Two sure things: it gives an opportunity to shine in the tiny viola concerto repertoire cramped and during all these days of listening, Orgy has continued to trot in my ear … Let say a bit weak but exhilarating.

Primrose / Boston / Munch – 1958 : Not much to say: great soloist (which has little to play), panache, respect for the score.8,5

Schmid / Radio bavaroise / Kubelik – 1964 : The sound has a bit too much treble. It is caught in a hellish tempo, it’s great, period and I’ll stop there, that’s great enough for me… The other remaining versions are certainly excellent. (The few who have pursued so far will think I am an incurable addict Kubelik: it’s a recent meeting with Pierre Lenert which made me think about doing this review of Harold recordings, I remembered that this concert was superb but not at this point …).

Berlioz - Harold en Italie

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