CLASSICAL Romeo & Juliet, RFH, London
Norrington's Berlioz is as good on the ear as on the eye, says Nicholas Williams
Saturday 17 February 1996
Orchestras still approach them on these terms. Berlioz's hybrids are firmly in the Mahlerian brigade of scope and duration, but perhaps need even more of a pretext than the Symphony of a Thousand to be brought back down from the attic. The bait for Roger Norrington and the London Philharmonic on St Valentine's Day was "The Romantic Experience": not, as it proved, one of the conductor's striking essays in authenticity but a topical phrase to catch an audience. We've heard his Beethoven, his Brahms and his Wagner, so his Berlioz sounded like even more good news.
There were no new theories here, however, although the layout, with first and second fiddles, then woodwind, cellos and brass in two concentric semi-circles, was 19th-century. Kettledrums took the high ground, left and right, while four harps loomed large as stage properties. Before a note was sounded, Berlioz's music was looking good.
Fifteen seconds into the Introduction, as the trombones threw down the gauntlet of their stark recitative across the tumult of string fugato depicting the warring families, it was clear that this would be an aurally ravishing performance as well. No fewer than three choirs were taking part, some 240 singers in all, and their appearance on the platform was theatrically compelling. First to arrive were the Schutz Choir of London, warm and precise in the Prologue and Strophes, with mezzo Sarah Walker and tenor John Mark Ainsley the mellifluous soloists. They then disappeared off stage to sing the young Capulets after the ball, before returning with the London Philharmonic Choir and Brighton Festival Chorus to drown out the orchestra in Juliet's funeral cortege and the closing graveside ceremonies, joined by bass Miguel Angel Zapater as Friar Laurence.
Inflated it may be, yet Norrington maintained a strict regard for detail, leaving the larger form of the work to speak for itself. "Be authentic; clap whenever you approve," he told us, and we did, though thanks to Berlioz the symphonic flow remained unruptured. The bonus lay in the set-pieces, heard in the pure colours of the respective tonal groups, with an almost audible time-lag between violins and double-basses on a stage this depth. "Queen Mab" was traumatic nightmare, the balcony scene, with rapturous flute and cor anglais, of almost tangible beauty. If you closed your eyes, there the lovers were, Hollywood-style, in the soaring cellos. So what. That's how it came to Berlioz; and, as Norrington might agree, if that's the way back into the music, why not just enjoy it.
Life & Style blogs
Versace haute couture review: Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
Why you should never make assumptions about people with autism
People all over the world are getting semicolon tattoos to draw attention to mental health
What supermodels really think about posing in the nude
The biggest first date turnoff has been revealed
More Britons believe that multiculturalism makes the country worse - not better, says poll
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture
Osborne to cap family benefits at £23,000 – announced ahead of his post-election Budget
- 1 Humans of New York image of crying gay teen receives best response yet from Ellen DeGeneres
- 2 What supermodels really think about posing in the nude
- 3 North Korean defector flees to Finland 'with evidence of chemical testing on humans'
- 4 Black teen in critical condition after store employee 'shoots him for stealing 79-cent pack of cookies'
- 5 Swedish minister gives strongest case yet on why EU should stop turning away asylum seekers
£7 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care provider is looking for Home ...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...
£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...
£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...