Davis’s classic Philips recording of La Damnation de Faust, better cast I think than his later LSO Live version, is still one of the most recommendable versions of Berlioz’s non-opera. This tragédie-lyrique was never intended to be staged and therefore is particularly well suited to the gramophone, which leaves one’s imagination clear to fill in the stage set and scenery.
Gedda is a great Faust. He may have been just a little past his vocal best but he still manages a gorgeous pianissimo top C sharp in the duet with Marguerite, which no other Faust can quite pull off, added to which his singing is always stylish and intelligently thought through. There are better Margeurite’s on disc than Veasey (Baker, Von Stade and Von Otter come to mind); the difficult Roi de Thulé doesn’t quite come off, but she is better in the duet and sings a fine Romance. Bastin makes a superb Méphistophélès, mercurial, sardonic and ultimately evil and Richard Van Allan puts in one of his best recorded performances as Brander.
Davis, as so often in Berlioz, has a wonderful sense of structure and paces the score just right, and the LSO play brilliantly for him, the brass powerful, woodwind and strings deliciously light in the Menuet des Follets, plus some wonderfully sensitive cor anglais playing in the introduction to D’amour l’ardente flamme.
Every time I listen to this piece, I am struck by its originality. Berlioz was and is unique, with an unmistakable voice. No other composer is remotely like him.