LSM-ONLINE-LOGO2JPG.jpg (4855 bytes)

La Scena Musicale Online Reviews and News / Critiques et Nouvelles

Visit La Scena Musicale Online Reviews. [Index] Critiques de La Scena Musicale Online

Toronto Symphony Shines in Berlioz’s Romeo et Juliette

By Denise Lai April 13, 2004

Berlioz: Romeo et Juliette, Op. 17
Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Toronto Mendelssohn Choir
Susan Platts, Mezzo-soprano
Benjamin Butterfield, Tenor
James Westman, Baritone
Sir Andrew Davis, Conductor
Roy Thomson Hall, March 25th, 2004

Romeo and Juliet, perhaps the most well-known couple in classical music, are most popularly known as the inspiraton for an overture by Tchaikovsky and a ballet by Prokofiev. The lesser known and rarely performed symphony by Hector Berlioz was the subject of an impressive production by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra this week which also featured the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and an all-Canadian cast of soloists.

Romeo and Juliette ressembles an Oratorio in form: soloists and the choir narrate the story. Rather than focusing on the love story between Romeo and Juliet, as in the case of Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev’s works, Berlioz places more emphasis on the outcome of the tragedy- the truce between the two warring families, the Capulets and the Montagues.

The "Introduction" of Part One, entitled "Combat–Tumult–Intervention of the Prince", was indeed tumultous. The opening was shaky, marred by the violas’ muddled playing and a delayed entry by the celli. The semi-chorus in the "Prologue" was beautiful, yet the balance was uneven at times. Mezzo-soprano Susan Platts has such a lovely buttery tone with a deep, contralto-like quality: it was a pity that the accompanying harp sounded so harsh and heavy. Tenor Benjamin Butterfield’s lyricism was appropriately contrasted by his playfully energetic vigour in the Scherzo.

Part Two was as much a showcase for Berlioz’s romantic grandeur as it was for the orchestra’s playing. Despite the piece’s complex orchestration and technical difficulty, the strings’ playing was brilliant. The lavishly expressive phrases were expertly shaped by conductor Sir Andrew Davis, who demonstrated much tighter control and focus with the orchestra alone. There was evident chemistry between the orchestra and Davis, who is a favorite with Toronto audiences. Overall, the TSO was at its best: infusing the piece with gusto that is often lacking in their performances.

Part Three was also characterized bydramatic orchestration, layered with two choruses and a bass-baritone solo. James Westman delivered solid singing, but his voice was drowned by the orchestra in his lower range. The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir was magnificent: it tackled the at times erratic harmony with precision, and in its full chorus it struck a much better balance with the orchestra. The triumphant finale celebrates the reconciliation of the two families. It was indeed a happy ending for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.



Visit La Scena Musicale Online Reviews. [Index] Critiques de La Scena Musicale Online

(c) La Scena Musicale 2000