The Compact Collection

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The bizarre irony of hearing old-world Jewish cantorial music re-worked by a man named Goebbels softens to palpable emotion as Joseph Schmidt, Ben Zion Kapov-Kagan, David Moshe Steinberg, Yehoshua Wieder, Gershon Sirota and Samuel Vigoda visit Heiner Goebbels's astonishing Surrogate Cities.

You could easily imagine overhearing these beautiful, ornate cantilations as they sounded from a pre-war European synagogue, mingling among the angry traffic of Goebbels's orchestral hordes. At around 4'30", the busyness calms and, in an unprecedented gesture of affection, string choirs become a decorative prayer shawl and the singing sounds lovelier than ever.

It's an amazing moment, one of many that, like the quasi-Rabbinic writings of Edmond Jabÿs, drifts through unfamiliar districts we already know in our dreams. The opening Suite for Sampler and Orchestra includes a musical line from Scarlatti (first on fiddle, then on piano); there's a fearsome "Sarabande" with Psycho-style string writing, and a "Bourrée" that's apparently peopled by aliens. Jocelyn B Smith relates the tale of "The Horation", with music that sweats Bernsteinian machismo, and David Moss rides a pounding ostinato for "Surrogate".

A nameless woman has been running. Why? Has she been attacked? Has she seen freedom, perhaps, or even stolen something? Paul Auster's closing reportage from "the Country of Last Thing" gives us a clue: "This is what the city does to you: it turns your thoughts inside out". Peter Rundel drives the magnificent Junge Deutsche Philharmonie very hard: you arrive home drained but changed.

In January I chanced upon Radio 3's live relay of what seemed to be one of the most thrilling, sensitive interpretations of Berlioz's Romeo & Juliet Symphony I had ever heard. Familiar as I am with Sir Colin Davis's two CD Romeos (both on Philips), this was different, more serene in the "Love Music" and more in tune with the tempered delirium that holds sway later on.

David Cairns describes the Tomb Scene as "in some ways the most startling and prophetic music Berlioz ever wrote", an assessment that Davis confirms in performance. Wagner's Tristan makes a prenatal appearance, both in the near-expressionist violence of the Tomb Scene and in the rapturously beautiful Love Music.

Any aspiring Berlioz conductor needs to achieve a fine sense of balance between Classical restraint and Romantic impulse. In that respect alone Davis's latest Berlioz sets new standards, but what emerged yet more strongly from that concert was a fervent commitment. You could sense the tension in the hall, and the recording - issued on the LSO's own "live" label - captures it to perfection. The singing is mostly excellent (Daniela Barcellona, Kenneth Tarver, Orlin Anastassov, LSO Chorus), but Davis and his orchestra are the real heroes. A fabulous bargain.

Surrogate Cities, Rundel ECM New Series 1688

Berlioz, Davis LSO 0003CD (two discs), from www.lso. or 020-7638 8891