Berlioz: La Damnation de Faust - Rattle

Berlioz: La Damnation de Faust - Rattle

LSO Live  LSO0809 (2 discs)

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Vocal

Berlioz: La Damnation de Faust

Karen Cargill (mezzo)
Bryan Hymel (tenor)
Christopher Purves (baritone)
Gábor Bretz (bass)
London Symphony Chorus
London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Simon Rattle (conductor)

Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra mark 150 years since the death of Hector Berlioz with his tempestuous oratorio, La damnation de Faust.

La damnation de Faust is a work born of the composer’s obsession with Goethe’s legendary tale. Once a righteous scholar, Faust allows himself to be corrupted by the devil, and drags the innocent around him into desperation and death. It’s a fable that defies definition – both a tragedy and dark comedy, with a central character both wise and despicable, and a play and epic poem in one.

Sir Simon Rattle says: 'This is a tribute to the Orchestra, and a tribute to Colin Davis. All of my generation learnt our Berlioz from Colin and the LSO. I've grown up with this music, and as a weird kid in the music library where my sister worked, the Berlioz Treatise on Instrumentation was one of my bibles.

We tend to forget how early Faust was started, Beethoven had just died when he made the first sketches, and the originality is still completely stunning to this day. The movement where Mephistopheles sings and the strings sound like a gigantic guitar, it's a sound such as no one else had even dreamt of making at that moment, and almost every other page there's a sound like that! You think, where does this come from? How did he even come across the idea that the orchestra could do that? It's the invention of the cinema. I think it was waiting for that. It's everything.

He wasn't a great man for categories, he was just expressing what he needed to express. Bless him for that freedom.'

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DSD recording

Recorded live 17 & 19 September 2017 at the Barbican Hall, London, United Kingdom, DSD 64fs

Producer: Andrew Cornall

Casting consultant: Danielle Quilleri

Recording, editing and mastering facilities: Classic Sound Ltd

Balance engineer, audio editing and mixing: Neil Hutchinson (Classic Sound Ltd)

Recording and mastering engineer: Jonathan Stokes (Classic Sound Ltd)

Recording software: Merging Technologies Pyramix
Comments (8)

Comment by Dissonance - September 21, 2019 (1 of 8)

Available now for pre-order at LSO Live online shop:

Bruckner: Symphony No. 6 in A major (ed. Benjamin-Gunnar Cohrs Urtext)
London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Simon Rattle (conductor)
LSO0842 SACD (Stereo/Multichannel 5.1 Hybrid)
Producer: Andrew Cornall
Engineering: Classic Sound Ltd
Recorded live in January 2019 at Barbican Hall, London

Comment by hiredfox - September 27, 2019 (2 of 8)

Very interesting, has he actually recorded Bruckner before? Maybe during his time at Berlin? I don't check non SA-CD recordings.

Comment by SteelyTom - September 30, 2019 (3 of 8)

He did a Bruckner 9, inclusive of a version of the finale made from sketches, with the Berlin PO.

Comment by Dissonance - September 30, 2019 (4 of 8)

And also Bruckner: Symphony No. 4 - Rattle

Comment by Gilbert Burnett - October 1, 2019 (5 of 8)

I am a bit puzzled about what is going on. The latest releases on this label do not seem to be being listed on this site. Further, Presto are listing them as CD only whilst Amazon and LSO Live have them as SACD???

Comment by hiredfox - October 1, 2019 (6 of 8)

I am very reluctant to criticise those who are running the site Gilbert but they do seem to be lagging behind other sites now with news of new releases whereas they were almost guaranteed to be the flag carrier a few years ago. This may be unfair; it could be the labels themselves that are not squaring the circle as they did.

Comment by Marcus DiBenedetto - April 3, 2021 (7 of 8)

Let’s get back to the music in question, Faust. I am fascinated by the story. We all have our dark moments of despair in life. Some may choose suicide; Faust certainly was close until he heard the church bells off in the distance. Most of us, as I have constantly reminded my children, wait it out until the darkness lifts. In my experience, it always does. Faust, however, chose to make a deal with the Devil.

The liner notes state that Berlioz did not want this piece to be a staged opera. Instead, he wanted the music to stir the audience’s imagination. It certainly does and I was very emotionally connected. This piece was on my wish list for some time. I finally downloaded it in DSD 64 multichannel. Sonics are excellent considering the venue, The Barbican. More interesting was the use of multiple choirs, so many in fact, that the boys’ choir and girls’ choir filled the isles. The music was recorded over two live performances (17 & 19 September, 2017).

I watched the entire performance on YouTube (longer than the two-hour recording because it includes the entrance plus the intermission) to get a sense of how they packed everyone in, especially the boys' and girls' choirs. I downloaded it so I could watch it without commercial interruptions. Sonics were not terrible considering it was YouTube. Also, I was very taken with the interactions of Faust and Mephistopheles. Apparently, The Metropolitan Opera did a concert version on February 8th, 2020, audio only. I do not have a subscription so I cannot evaluate it.

Reviews are excellent with a few notable quibbles over some of the soloists. Karen Cargill (mezzo), however, was very well regarded. Aside from the soloists, the Choirs are everywhere; I loved every moment of their singing. Conductor, Sir Simon Rattle choose a full modern orchestra rather than period pieces. I prefer it this way, powerful and dramatic. Singing was in French but there is an English translation in the liner notes. The story, the music and vocals are all epic. Multichannel will give you the full experience. There is so much here that I will have to listen to it several more times.

Are there better versions? Probably. But this one is recorded in high resolution for SACD. The sound engineering team of Jonathan Stokes and Neil Hutchinson (Classic Sound) did a great job mastering (should I say, containing) this huge orchestra and the many Choirs. A reviewer who attended the live performance said there were microphones literally everywhere. I am glad I purchased it and recommend it to you.

Marcus DiBenedetto
Las Vegas, NV

Comment by Marcus DiBenedetto - June 3, 2021 (8 of 8)

I am adding a new comment after listening to Faust numerous times. Each time I listen to this work, I become completely involved emotionally. Mike Ashman wrote a glowing review for Gramophone. I want to draw your attention to his characterization of the soloists: "There’s no lack of either angst or love in Bryan Hymel’s emotional and stylish reading of the title-part and a special richness about Karen Cargill’s fantasies as Marguerite. Christopher Purves manages both wit and a specially sleazy nastiness as the victorious Devil (actually, the Devil's agent) and Gábor Bretz is strong and straightforward as Brander."

Christopher Purves' baritone voice is exceptional. He really gets in to the role and towards the end, as he leads Faust in to hell, he mocks Faust with truly "dark" emotion. Listen to him sing in track's 32 & 33, Pt. IV, Scène XVII - Récitatif et chasse. "A la voûte azurée" and Pt. IV, Scène XVIII - La course à l'abîme. "Dans mon coeur retentit sa voix". Exceptional. Purves' voice is powerful, commanding and comes through as victorious. Meanwhile, Faust twists in agony and despair. His singing, filled with regret and pleading for mercy, in counterpoint to Purves, is a moment to savor.

Again, highly recommended.

Marcus DiBenedetto
Las Vegas, NV