The CD format for opera on records coincides with (and perhaps encourages) the modern habit in the opera house of running two or more acts together without an interval. Some operas benefit from this, but I don't think Faust is one of them. It strikes a genial bargain. ''I won't waste your time,'' it promises, ''but don't bother to come along if you haven't got a full evening-out to spare.''
David Zinman's performance of Coppelia is beautifully played and most naturally recorded. The warm acoustic of the Rotterdam concert hall certainly suites Delibes colourful scoring, and the gracefully delicate string-playing is nicely flattered. 'Les Sylphides' is a compilation of works by Frédéric Chopin. It was conceived as a ballet by Mikhail Fokin in 1909, and orchestrated by Roy Douglas in 1936. 3. Faust: Ballet Music by Charles Gounod.
In nearly every respect this is outstanding. The Rondo brillant and the Fantasie, both written for the virtuoso duo of Karl von Bocklet and Josef Slawik, can sound as if Schubert were striving for a brilliant, flashy style, foreign to his nature. Both are in places uncomfortable to play (when first published, the Fantasie’s violin part was simplified), but you would never guess this from Faust’s and Melnikov’s performance; they both nonchalantly toss off any problem passages as though child’s play. The Fantasie’s finale and the Rondo brillant are irresistibly lively and spirited, and this duo’s technical finesse extends to more poetic episodes – Melnikov’s tremolo at the start of the Fantasie shimmers delicately, while the filigree passagework in the last of the variations that form the Fantasie’s centrepiece have a delightful poise and sense of ease.
A 19th-century ‘trio sonata’. Isabelle Faust and Alexander Melnikov have already given us an acclaimed version Brahms’s First Violin Sonata, in 2007. They now complete the cycle with the other two sonatas of 1886 and 1888, and add a fascinating rarity dating from 35 years earlier: the ‘F-A-E’ Sonata, a collaborative effort by three composers in honour of the great violinist Joachim, who had to guess who had written which movement! He did so with ease, for the Scherzo is as eminently Brahmsian as the Intermezzo and Finale are Schumannesque. Alexander Melnikov will be contributing his take on a score his mother gave him that belonged to Sviatoslav Richter in September BBC Music Magazine.
This imaginative staging of Berlioz's dramatic symphony for chorus, soloists and orchestra relies heavily on the moving of massed choirs across a large stage. It has vivid lighting effects–rather too many of them using strobes–and monolithic multi-purpose sets, in particular a revolving glass drum which functions both as cinema screen and rostrum for singers, so that the final ride to Hell, for example, is sung by Mephistopheles and Faust above a cavalcade of projected horses, like the inside of a zoetrope. The three main soloists have voices on a scale that can compete with these flashy production values–White and Kasarova, in particular, sing at a level of intensity that would swamp anything less; the climactic seduction trio has rarely been sung so well or with such an overpoweringly polymorphous eroticism. Cambreling marshals his forces effectively, giving full rein to the work's showstoppers like the "Hungarian March" but not neglecting the subtler less kinetic Gluckian side of Berlioz's vocal writing. (Roz Kaveney)