A new aesthetic calls for new forms: such is the challenge the composer Hector Berlioz set for himself in the two works presented here.
In Les Nuits d’été, Berlioz pioneered, well before Mahler and Ravel, a song cycle for voice and orchestra.
In Harold in Italy, scored for large orchestra and solo viola, he experimented with the symphonic genre.
These period-instrument performances by Les Siècles, led by François-Xavier Roth with violist Tabea Zimmermann, also feature Stéphane Degout in the vocal cycle, heard here in the composer’s own version for baritone.
Les Nuits d’été rapidly came to be seen as a vehicle for female voice. Stephane Dégout’s superb account makes clear this need not be so…Roth’s period-instrument ensemble Les Siècles provides superb support for Dégout, lifting rather than overpowering the voice…The orchestra is even more vivid when let loose on the adventures of Harold en Italie, bringing incisive rhythms, translucent textures and a fizzing energy, while Tabea Zimmermann holds nothing back. BBC Music Magazine *****/****
This new recording with Tabea Zimmermann has much to recommend it… Zimmermann offers a darker, grainier tone than her earlier LSO Live account with Colin Davis but her approach hasn’t changed much…The Pilgrims trudge purposefully…and Roth instils fire into the last movement’s orgy…One couldn’t imagine a more sensitive baritone than Stephane Dégout, yet his burnished sound has plenty of muscle too. Gramophone