Colin Davis conducts La Damnation de Faust


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.

Kiri Te Kanawa – Mozart Arias



Zaide: Ruhe sanft, mein holdes Leben
La finta giardinera: Crudeli fermate… A dal pianto
La clemenza di Tito: S’altro che lagrime
Cosí fan tutte: Ei parte…Senti… Per pietà
Il rè pastore: L’amerò,sarò costanze
Lucia Silla: Pupille amate
Idomeneo: Se il padre perdei
Die Zauberflöte: Ach ich fühl’s

Kiri Te Kanawa became known to the world when she sang Let the bright Seraphim at the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, but opera afficionados had known of her for at least ten years before that. I remember very clearly seeing a TV broadcast frm Glyndebourne of Le Nozze di Figaro, in which Te Kanawa played the Countess, Ileana Cotruas Susanna and Frederica Von Stade Cherubino. It effectively launched all three ladies’ international careers, and it was principally as a Mozart singer that Te Kanawa became known.

Later she sang roles by Verdi (the gentler heroines like Desdemona and Amelia in Simon Boccanegrea), Puccini (Mimi and Manon), Strauss (the Marschallin, Countess Madeleine and Arabella), as well as Gounod’s Margeurite, Tatyana and Barber’s Vanessa, but I still think of her chiefly as a Mozart specialist, and it is in this repertoire that I enjoy her most.

It is good to see so many arias taken from Mozart’s lesser known operas, but the recital tends to concentrate on gracefully flowing arias, and so there is little variety. Of course there is much pleasure to be gained from the beauty of Dame Kiri’s creamy soprano, and her technical command of the music, but she evinces little character and the recital tends to settle back comfortably into its frame. You could of course argue that the music demands no more than it is given, and, for most of the music you’d probably be right, but when it comes to the recitative and aria from Cosí fan tutte, my mind kept going back to a more sharply characterised, but no less scrupulously sung version by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, and I couldn’t help but wonder what she would have made of a similar collection.

Still, we should be grateful for what we have. It is rare indeed to hear such accomplished singing (and orchestral playing) allied to such a glorious voice. The disc certainly plays to her strengths, that is a voice of creamy beauty, even throughout its range, and maybe it is better experienced piecemeal, rather than in one sitting, when you’d be less inclined to notice the lack of variety in the programme.