Angela Gheorghiu stars as Marguerite alongside a divine cast of operatic superstars, including Roberto Alagna, Bryn Terfel, Simon Keenlyside and Sophie Koch, in David McVicar's spectacular 2004 production of Gounod's best known opera, Faust, for the Royal Opera House in London. This production was the Royal Opera Company's first performance of Gounod's Faust in 18 years. Gounod's Faust is the story of a scholar who sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for unlimited knowledge and worldly indulgences. McVicar's innovative production sets this story around the time of the Franco-Prussian War (1870) in the gothic, seamy underbelly of Paris. He characterizes Faust, performed by Roberto Alagna, as a man both torn between the theater and religion, and grappling with his own sexuality.
This is a reissue of a recording from 1993 (re-released a few years ago and deleted in 2003), recently remastered for SACD, and it really impresses with a renewed presence and impact, even on standard CD playback. As I said in my original review, Savall's reading "comes as close as these things can to placing us in the best seat in the house and treats us to a rare experience: the sensation of believing we're hearing a ruggedly familiar piece for the first time. Literally bursting with energy, scintillating strings, blazing horns, and incisive winds, and never boring even for one second, these performances give you Handel at his most exciting." If you have the earlier release, you probably don't need this one–unless you now own an SACD system–but it does deserve a place in every Handel collection, not only for the unsurpassed performances, but also for the effect of Savall's several decidedly "non-standard" tempos(!), and of course for the phenomenal sound, which now must have reached its ultimate realism in this format.
Anyone listening to this admirable set will gain an accurate impression of David Oistrakh’s overall playing style, his poise, composure, interpretative finesse, velvety tone and highly sophisticated musicianship. Various of the works programmed are - or have been - available in alternative Oistrakh recordings (the Tchaikovsky and Brahms concertos in around six versions apiece), but Melodiya’s selections are, in general, judiciously chosen.