Robin Ticciati & SRSO - Berlioz: Romeo et Juliette - American Record Guide

Berlioz’s Romeo et Juliette is numbered among his symphonies—the composer called it a “dramatic symphony”—but it’s hardly a symphony by any conventional definition. Nor is it an oratorio or an opera. The plot of Shakespeare’s play is sort of there, mostly related by choral narrative, even if the text, written by Emile Deschamps, has no Shakespearean lines at all. Berlioz included three soloists, who represent minor characters (Mercutio, Friar Laurence) with a contralto narrator. The ill-fated lovers are represented by the orchestra, and the double chorus becomes the warring families. In short it’s hard to say what this piece is. To me it seems like a sure recipe for failure, but somehow the creativity and enthusiasm of Berlioz carry the day. In its way it is a fine piece, whatever the genre.

Robin Ticciati, still in his early 30s, already has three Berlioz recordings to his credit, and he shows here again that he is a young conductor to watch. He whips up lots of enthusiasm in the Introduction and the ball scene, and the vocal scherzetto is taken at top speed. The Radio Symphony has fine brass players and sounds very good, despite minimal string vibrato. The Choir is likewise first rate, lovely in tone and large enough to make the end of the piece convincing. The soloists are all very good. Dragojevic has a lovely, rich sound, but unfortunately not a great deal to do. Staples’s lean, fairly light tenor voice is well cast for his tricky, swift passage work. Miles has some gruffness in his voice, but this quality gives him the gravity and authority needed for Friar Laurence’s long solo at the end of the work.

17 February 2017