Berlioz Overtures Including Rob Roy

Regardless which recording you select for the Berlioz Overtures, make sure it includes Rob Roy.  The recording I have is not easy to find or it is rather expensive.  I also have this recording of Berlioz Overtures, so take it into consideration.

Here is a long review associated with the first recommendation.

"There have been a good few British advocates of Berlioz's still neglected music – Beecham, Davis and Boult amongst the most prominent and influential – but Sir Alexander Gibson may also take his place in that list, starting not least with his superb vintage and classic recordings of "La mort de Cléopâtre" and excerpts from "Les Troyens", both with Janet Baker. This Tring edition is a worthy companion, covering as it does some of Berlioz's lesser known overtures, played with virtuosic brilliance by the Royal Philharmonic in full, crystal-clear sound.

The Royal Philharmonic Collection in partnership with the Tring label was projected to run to a massive 150 recordings. As far as I know they never got beyond forty but that extant list contains some real gems at super bargain prices – and this is certainly one of them.

Driving recently I switched on the radio just after an overture had begun and I instantly recognised Berlioz's trademark touches without knowing the title, so by process of elimination I guessed "Les francs juges" and was right. I had an instant and subsequently lifelong love affair with Berlioz the first time I heard "Symphonie fantastique" (of course) but I never tire of his lunatic invention – he was completely off his rocker, I submit – and the weird colouring of his orchestration. His use of erratic unpredictable rhythms, syncopations and his emphatic deployment of punchy brass are unmistakable. I'm not sure this overture hangs together but it's fascinating, not least the middle passage where an eerie woodwind choral floats above plucked snatches of melody from the violas and double basses while the violins swoop in with snippets of the allegro opening theme – so odd, yet totally absorbing.

The overture to "Benvenuto Cellini", in my opinion Berlioz's greatest neglected work, is a riot of emotion, with satirically elephantine theme to represent the Pope and overweening clergy, a mellifluous love theme and all the chaotic excess of the Roman carnival and Cellini's own intense, dissolute life-style. "Le corsaire" is a triumph of swashbuckling élan, swirling strings and chattering woodwind. The last section where the Big Tune goes up a tone is a master-stroke. "Béatrice et Bénédict " a gorgeously witty, snappy erratic medley that mostly reflects the "merry war of wits" between the two reluctant lovers but takes time out to quote from the famously seductive and languorous "Nocturne".

Both "Waverley" and "King Lear" are more obscure as concert items; they are long pieces and seem more like tone poems. They suffer to some extent from the fragmented character of Berlioz's less coherent music and are perhaps less fecund in melody than the more popular overtures but they are nonetheless absorbing and given the best possible advocacy by Gibson and the RPO. As always in Berlioz, there is a long-breathed "dream of love", this time for the cellos, then an equally typical perky, martial air takes over – great stuff.

"King Lear" is the most sombre, subtle and reflective overture in this collection of six. In this case, the impression of fragmentation is to reflect the old king's tormented state of mind. A tender, haunting theme for the oboe, perhaps, as the notes suggest, figuring Cordelia, is interpolated between more agitated themes.

Gibson is a committed Berlioz expert who knows how to encompass the wide gamut of moods Berlioz embraces in his mercurial music; he can do the yearning line of the love music and whip up the erotic frenzy of living life on the edge, so much a part of Berlioz's own life and amply reflected in his composition.

In his otherwise chirpy and informative notes, Brendan Beales is mistaken when he writes of the pompous Cardinal theme, as there is no cardinal in the opera but rather Pope Clement VII, who has commissioned the "Perseus". He also amusingly quotes Berlioz's description of reading "King Lear" for the first time: "I thought I would burst from enthusiasm; I rolled around (in the grass, honestly), I rolled convulsively to appease my utter rapture". Your reaction to this disc might be tempered from that but it illustrates the kind of tempestuous passion that inspired Berlioz – and Gibson really permits you to hear it in this music; this disc is a steal. "