Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Bernstein – Berlioz – Harold in Italy

   Hector Berlioz, great romantic composer and innovator in orchestration, one of best French artists ever, was prized mostly for his Symphonie fantastique, or still very popular in 19th century and one of his most recognized work program symphony Harold in Italy. In most of his works he was breaking the fixed rules of music constructions. The most famous works on his account, like La damnation de Faust which Berlioz described as “légende dramatique” and Roméo et Juliette called by composer “symphonie dramatique”.
   After great artistic success of Symphonie fantastique, Hector Berlioz was credited as main personality of French romanticism and highly priced for musical language and form innovations. He was declared as an atheist, he composed also Te Deum in 1849, a quasi-liturgical work. His most famous religious work is Grande messe des morts op. 5 known also as the Requiem, a monumental composition written in 1837 by the commission of French Minister of Interior to commemorate soldiers who died during Revolution of July 1830.
   Although Berlioz second symphony is precisely defined in its title – Harold en Italie, Symphonie en quatre parties avec un alto principal op. 16 – it is not well fitting to any known form. This is more the symphony set of orchestral scenes corresponding with moods presented in Lord Byron’s poem Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, with melancholic parts of viola corresponding to the title hero dreamy character. The first idea to write a composition with extensive viola parts came from Nicolo Paganini. In December 1933, after performance of Symphonie fantastique great violinist commissioned work for solo viola he could play with extraordinary viola by Antonio Stradivari he possessed. But after great virtuoso seen first sketches of Berlioz new composition, he was disappointed and refused.

Leonard Bernstein – Berlioz – Harold in Italy (1977)

   It is worth to remember Harold in Italy is not titled sinfonia concertante, viola is very well displayed but not in concerting manner. From formal point of view it is freely constructed program symphony with viola representing the hero of Byron’s poem. In some ideas this work can be seen as a predecessor of symphonic poem, the romantic form established by Liszt almost two decades later and this is real value of this symphony. Nicolo Paganini heard the Harold in Italy symphony four years after premiere in 1938 and in front of audience he knelt before composer kissing his hand. Few days later Berlioz received congratulations and bank draft for 20 000 francs as a personal award for commissioned work.
   In 1977 EMI Records released recording of Harold in Italy interpreted by Leonard Bernstein with Orchestre National de France and violist Donald McInnes. Published in quadraphonic pressing, this performance gives the audiophile satisfaction of clear and deep sound. String phrases are strongly outlined and the whole orchestral sound is rich and filled with colors. Soloist plays viola with full, silky sound. He is observant and precise, giving the viola part nostalgic, sometimes melancholic temper. Formal frame of the program symphony, narrative continuity and permanent exploration of possible, sometimes even surprising new readings with full orchestral expression are features marking this recording so significant, deserving five in a five-star scale.

No comments:

Post a Comment