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John Nelson|Berlioz: Roméo et Juliette, H. 79 - Cléopâtre, H. 36

Berlioz: Roméo et Juliette, H. 79 - Cléopâtre, H. 36

John Nelson, Joyce DiDonato, Cyrille Dubois, Christopher Maltman, Orchestre philharmonique de Strasbourg

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Hector Berlioz's Roméo et Juliette is a rare example of a work whose radicalism has endured from its own day down to ours. There isn't anything quite like it. It is not an opera, nor incidental music to Shakespeare's play, and the roles of Romeo and Juliet are voiceless, taken by the orchestra, with the vocal parts representing smaller characters (Mercutio, Friar Tuck), a contralto narrator, and the clashing families in a double chorus. Shakespeare's actual words aren't present; Berlioz spoke no English, but he grasped the play anyhow when he saw it performed in that language. It is an orchestral drama mapped onto traditional symphonic form, and it is, by Berlioz's own admission, extremely difficult to perform; he put his orchestra through sectional rehearsals, a novelty at the time, before bringing them together. This is a wonderful performance. When the history of symphonic recordings in the early 21st century is written, the Berlioz albums of conductor John Nelson ought to get their own little chapter. The Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg is not the Berlin Philharmonic, but both the passion and the detail of Berlioz's score are here, and one senses that this is a performance the composer would have loved: vivid and imbued with the score's sense of straining at orchestral boundaries. The soloists are quite strong, and the presence of soprano Joyce DiDonato is a double bonus because the album concludes with the rarely performed Berlioz cantata Cléopâtre, an unsuccessful Berlioz entry in the Prix de Rome competition. This work has been sung by both mezzo-sopranos and contraltos, and it is right in DiDonato's sweet spot; she delivers an exceptionally persuasive reading. A Berlioz recording to keep and treasure, the album landed on classical best-seller lists in the spring of 2023.

© James Manheim /TiVo

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Berlioz: Roméo et Juliette, H. 79 - Cléopâtre, H. 36

John Nelson

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1
Roméo et Juliette, Op. 17, H 79, Pt. 1: Introduction. Combats - Tumulte - Intervention du Prince
00:04:27

Orchestre Philharmonique De Strasbourg, Orchestra - Hector Berlioz, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - Emile Deschamps, Poet

A Warner Classics/Erato release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited Under exclusive license to Parlophone Records Limited. A Warner Classics/Erato Release, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

2
Roméo et Juliette, Op. 17, H 79, Pt. 1: Récitatif choral. "D’anciennes haines endormies"
00:05:03

Orchestre Philharmonique De Strasbourg, Orchestra - Hector Berlioz, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - Joyce DiDonato, Mezzo-soprano Vocals, FeaturedArtist - Emile Deschamps, Poet - Cyrille Dubois, Tenor Vocals, FeaturedArtist - Coro Gulbenkian, Chorus, FeaturedArtist - Chœur de l’Opéra national du Rhin, Chorus, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics/Erato release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited Under exclusive license to Parlophone Records Limited. A Warner Classics/Erato Release, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

3
Roméo et Juliette, Op. 17, H 79, Pt. 1: Strophes. "Premiers transports que nul n’oublie !" - "Heureux enfants aux coeurs de flamme"
00:06:24

Orchestre Philharmonique De Strasbourg, Orchestra - Hector Berlioz, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - Joyce DiDonato, Mezzo-soprano Vocals, FeaturedArtist - Emile Deschamps, Poet

A Warner Classics/Erato release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited Under exclusive license to Parlophone Records Limited. A Warner Classics/Erato Release, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

4
Roméo et Juliette, Op. 17, H 79, Pt. 1: Récitatif et Scherzetto. "Bientôt de Roméo la pâle rêverie"
00:00:23

Orchestre Philharmonique De Strasbourg, Orchestra - Hector Berlioz, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - Emile Deschamps, Poet - Cyrille Dubois, Tenor Vocals, FeaturedArtist - Coro Gulbenkian, Chorus, FeaturedArtist - Chœur de l’Opéra national du Rhin, Chorus, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics/Erato release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited Under exclusive license to Parlophone Records Limited. A Warner Classics/Erato Release, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

5
Roméo et Juliette, Op. 17, H 79, Pt. 1: "Mab, la messagère fluette et légère" - "Bientôt la mort est souveraine"
00:02:44

Orchestre Philharmonique De Strasbourg, Orchestra - Hector Berlioz, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - Emile Deschamps, Poet - Cyrille Dubois, Tenor Vocals, FeaturedArtist - Coro Gulbenkian, Chorus, FeaturedArtist - Chœur de l’Opéra national du Rhin, Chorus, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics/Erato release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited Under exclusive license to Parlophone Records Limited. A Warner Classics/Erato Release, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

6
Roméo et Juliette, Op. 17, H 79, Pt. 2: Roméo seul - Tristesse - Bruits lointains de concert et de bal
00:06:16

Orchestre Philharmonique De Strasbourg, Orchestra - Hector Berlioz, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - Emile Deschamps, Poet

A Warner Classics/Erato release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited Under exclusive license to Parlophone Records Limited. A Warner Classics/Erato Release, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

7
Roméo et Juliette, Op. 17, H 79, Pt. 2: Grande fête chez Capulet
00:05:57

Orchestre Philharmonique De Strasbourg, Orchestra - Hector Berlioz, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - Emile Deschamps, Poet

A Warner Classics/Erato release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited Under exclusive license to Parlophone Records Limited. A Warner Classics/Erato Release, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

8
Roméo et Juliette, Op. 17, H 79, Pt. 2: Nuit sereine - Le jardin de Capulet, silencieux et désert - Les jeunes Capulets, sortant de la fête, passent en chantant des réminiscences de la musique du bal. "Ohé ! Capulets, bonsoir, bonsoir !"
00:02:50

Orchestre Philharmonique De Strasbourg, Orchestra - Hector Berlioz, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - Emile Deschamps, Poet - Coro Gulbenkian, Chorus, FeaturedArtist - Chœur de l’Opéra national du Rhin, Chorus, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics/Erato release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited Under exclusive license to Parlophone Records Limited. A Warner Classics/Erato Release, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

9
Roméo et Juliette, Op. 17, H 79, Pt. 2: Scène d’amour
00:13:57

Orchestre Philharmonique De Strasbourg, Orchestra - Hector Berlioz, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - Emile Deschamps, Poet

A Warner Classics/Erato release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited Under exclusive license to Parlophone Records Limited. A Warner Classics/Erato Release, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

10
Roméo et Juliette, Op. 17, H 79, Pt. 2: La Reine Mab, ou la Fée des Songes
00:08:15

Orchestre Philharmonique De Strasbourg, Orchestra - Hector Berlioz, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - Emile Deschamps, Poet

A Warner Classics/Erato release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited Under exclusive license to Parlophone Records Limited. A Warner Classics/Erato Release, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

11
Roméo et Juliette, Op. 17, H 79, Pt. 3: Convoi funèbre de Juliette. "Jetez des fleurs pour la vierge expirée"
00:07:56

Orchestre Philharmonique De Strasbourg, Orchestra - Hector Berlioz, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - Emile Deschamps, Poet - Coro Gulbenkian, Chorus, FeaturedArtist - Chœur de l’Opéra national du Rhin, Chorus, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics/Erato release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited Under exclusive license to Parlophone Records Limited. A Warner Classics/Erato Release, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

12
Roméo et Juliette, Op. 17, H 79, Pt. 3: Roméo au tombeau des Capulets
00:01:32

Orchestre Philharmonique De Strasbourg, Orchestra - Hector Berlioz, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - Emile Deschamps, Poet

A Warner Classics/Erato release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited Under exclusive license to Parlophone Records Limited. A Warner Classics/Erato Release, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

13
Roméo et Juliette, Op. 17, H 79, Pt. 3: Invocation et réveil de Juliette
00:06:36

Orchestre Philharmonique De Strasbourg, Orchestra - Hector Berlioz, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - Emile Deschamps, Poet

A Warner Classics/Erato release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited Under exclusive license to Parlophone Records Limited. A Warner Classics/Erato Release, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

14
Roméo et Juliette, Op. 17, H 79, Pt. 3: Final. La foule accourt au cimetière - Rixe des Capulets et des Montagus. "Quoi ! Roméo de retour !"
00:01:25

Orchestre Philharmonique De Strasbourg, Orchestra - Hector Berlioz, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - Emile Deschamps, Poet - Coro Gulbenkian, Chorus, FeaturedArtist - Chœur de l’Opéra national du Rhin, Chorus, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics/Erato release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited Under exclusive license to Parlophone Records Limited. A Warner Classics/Erato Release, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

15
Roméo et Juliette, Op. 17, H 79, Pt. 3: Récitatif et air. Serment de réconciliation - Chœurs et récitatif. "Je vais dévoiler le mystère"
00:03:05

Orchestre Philharmonique De Strasbourg, Orchestra - Hector Berlioz, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - Emile Deschamps, Poet - Christopher Maltman, Baritone Vocals, FeaturedArtist - Coro Gulbenkian, Chorus, FeaturedArtist - Chœur de l’Opéra national du Rhin, Chorus, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics/Erato release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited Under exclusive license to Parlophone Records Limited. A Warner Classics/Erato Release, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

16
Roméo et Juliette, Op. 17, H 79, Pt. 3: Air. "Pauvres enfants que je pleure"
00:08:37

Orchestre Philharmonique De Strasbourg, Orchestra - Hector Berlioz, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - Emile Deschamps, Poet - Christopher Maltman, Baritone Vocals, FeaturedArtist - Coro Gulbenkian, Chorus, FeaturedArtist - Chœur de l’Opéra national du Rhin, Chorus, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics/Erato release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited Under exclusive license to Parlophone Records Limited. A Warner Classics/Erato Release, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

17
Roméo et Juliette, Op. 17, H 79, Pt. 3: Serment. "Jurez donc par l’auguste symbole"
00:05:18

Orchestre Philharmonique De Strasbourg, Orchestra - Hector Berlioz, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - Emile Deschamps, Poet - Christopher Maltman, Baritone Vocals, FeaturedArtist - Coro Gulbenkian, Chorus, FeaturedArtist - Chœur de l’Opéra national du Rhin, Chorus, FeaturedArtist

A Warner Classics/Erato release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited Under exclusive license to Parlophone Records Limited. A Warner Classics/Erato Release, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

18
Cléopâtre, H 36: Récitatif. "C’en est donc fait !"
00:03:17

Orchestre Philharmonique De Strasbourg, Orchestra - Hector Berlioz, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - Joyce DiDonato, Mezzo-soprano Vocals, FeaturedArtist - Pierre-Ange Vieillard, Poet

A Warner Classics/Erato release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited Under exclusive license to Parlophone Records Limited. A Warner Classics/Erato Release, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

19
Cléopâtre, H 36: "Ah ! qu’ils sont loin ces jours, tourment de ma mémoire"
00:07:04

Orchestre Philharmonique De Strasbourg, Orchestra - Hector Berlioz, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - Joyce DiDonato, Mezzo-soprano Vocals, FeaturedArtist - Pierre-Ange Vieillard, Poet

A Warner Classics/Erato release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited Under exclusive license to Parlophone Records Limited. A Warner Classics/Erato Release, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

20
Cléopâtre, H 36: Méditation. "Grands Pharaons, nobles Lagides"
00:04:32

Orchestre Philharmonique De Strasbourg, Orchestra - Hector Berlioz, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - Joyce DiDonato, Mezzo-soprano Vocals, FeaturedArtist - Pierre-Ange Vieillard, Poet

A Warner Classics/Erato release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited Under exclusive license to Parlophone Records Limited. A Warner Classics/Erato Release, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

21
Cléopâtre, H 36: "Non!... non, de vos demeures funèbres"
00:02:42

Orchestre Philharmonique De Strasbourg, Orchestra - Hector Berlioz, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - Joyce DiDonato, Mezzo-soprano Vocals, FeaturedArtist - Pierre-Ange Vieillard, Poet

A Warner Classics/Erato release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited Under exclusive license to Parlophone Records Limited. A Warner Classics/Erato Release, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

22
Cléopâtre, H 36: Récitatif mesuré. "Dieux du Nil, vous m’avez trahie !"
00:03:25

Orchestre Philharmonique De Strasbourg, Orchestra - Hector Berlioz, Composer - John Nelson, Conductor, MainArtist - Joyce DiDonato, Mezzo-soprano Vocals, FeaturedArtist - Pierre-Ange Vieillard, Poet

A Warner Classics/Erato release, © 2023 Parlophone Records Limited Under exclusive license to Parlophone Records Limited. A Warner Classics/Erato Release, ℗ 2023 Ascanio's Purse

Album review

Hector Berlioz's Roméo et Juliette is a rare example of a work whose radicalism has endured from its own day down to ours. There isn't anything quite like it. It is not an opera, nor incidental music to Shakespeare's play, and the roles of Romeo and Juliet are voiceless, taken by the orchestra, with the vocal parts representing smaller characters (Mercutio, Friar Tuck), a contralto narrator, and the clashing families in a double chorus. Shakespeare's actual words aren't present; Berlioz spoke no English, but he grasped the play anyhow when he saw it performed in that language. It is an orchestral drama mapped onto traditional symphonic form, and it is, by Berlioz's own admission, extremely difficult to perform; he put his orchestra through sectional rehearsals, a novelty at the time, before bringing them together. This is a wonderful performance. When the history of symphonic recordings in the early 21st century is written, the Berlioz albums of conductor John Nelson ought to get their own little chapter. The Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg is not the Berlin Philharmonic, but both the passion and the detail of Berlioz's score are here, and one senses that this is a performance the composer would have loved: vivid and imbued with the score's sense of straining at orchestral boundaries. The soloists are quite strong, and the presence of soprano Joyce DiDonato is a double bonus because the album concludes with the rarely performed Berlioz cantata Cléopâtre, an unsuccessful Berlioz entry in the Prix de Rome competition. This work has been sung by both mezzo-sopranos and contraltos, and it is right in DiDonato's sweet spot; she delivers an exceptionally persuasive reading. A Berlioz recording to keep and treasure, the album landed on classical best-seller lists in the spring of 2023.

© James Manheim /TiVo

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