Robin Ticciati - Scottish Chamber Orchestra - Berlioz: Les nuits d'ete - The Times

Berlioz played with chamber forces? The combination already worked well in last year's recording of the Symphonie fantastique with Robin Ticciati and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Now lightning has struck twice. The Berlioz repertoire chosen here by the SCO's principal conductor may be on a smaller scale - we get two vocal jewels, Les Nuits d'été and La mort de Cléopâtre, plus the orchestral love scene from the dramatic symphony Roméo et Juliette. But the virtues that lit up that Fantastique remain: piercing clarity of colour and texture; heightened drama; increased tenderness and intimacy. This is Berlioz up close and personal, and wonderful to behold. Berlioz performed with love, too. Over four seasons with the orchestra, Ticciati has formed a marked rapport both with composer and players; I'd buy this CD for the woodwinds' phrasings and colours alone, and they occupy just one part of Berlioz's startling kaleidoscope. Luckily for his upcoming job as Glyndebourne Festival's music director, the 30 year-old is equally sensitive to the human voice, and he guides his soloist wisely. The Scottish mezzo soprano Karen Cargill, one of the orchestra's past Artists in Association, is another reason to buy this disc.

Dark, mobile, richly emotional, her voice finds a near-perfect showcase in the dramatic plaints of the Cleopatra cantata, Berlioz's bid for the 1829 Prix de Rome, and the subtler sorrows of the later Nuits d'été. The close of 'Le spectre de la rose' in that cycle - so sad, so fragile - makes you clutch at your heart...

In between the vocal pieces comes the remarkable Roméo et Juliette love scene, music of the most passionate yearning, given extra lustre by the orchestra's intimate forces, sympathetically captured throughout in the recording produced and engineered by Philip Hobbs. The good news is that the SCO has now extended Ticciati's contract until 'at least 2018'. Cue for more Berlioz, I'd say...

The Times
13 November 2013