“This is Rattle” is the name of a ten-day festival organised in 2017 at the Barbican Centre in London to celebrate Sir Simon Rattle’s return to the country and his debut at the elm of the London Symphony Orchestra. One of the high points was the presentation of Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust, performed twice, a piece Rattle knows in fact very well and also conducted in Berlin.
Half opera, half cantata, the work wasn’t intended to be performed on stage. Very much like in the Symphonie fantastique, written fifteen years earlier, and his upcoming opera Benvenuto Cellini, La Damnation de Faust is largely autobiographical; Berlioz identifies with Faust’s metaphysical suffering, between disillusioned idealism, forbidden love and internal demons.
The London Symphony Orchestra is very familiar with Berlioz, having performed his work many times since the 1970s under the lead of its former conductor, the late Sir Colin Davis. Standout performances include American tenor Bryan Hymel as Faust and British mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill, radiant in the role of Marguerite, once again displaying the excellent French diction of international singers. Replacing Gerald Finley at the last minute, Christopher Purves plays a particularly elegant Mephisto. Yet another contribution to the discography put together on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the bubbling French composer’s passing. © François Hudry/Qobuz