Dec 12 2008 by Our Correspondent, Perthshire Advertiser Friday
FOR the second year running the RSNO and their Chorus, under their impressive French conductor Stéphan Denève, have programmed a performance in the Perth Concert Series of just one unique work. Last season we were privileged to hear a thrilling performance of Mahler’s massive Third Symphony. This year it was a work that is just as unique and immense, Berlioz’s dramatic legend The Damnation of Faust.
Berlioz composed his cantata, loosely based on Goethe’s Faust, in four parts that tells the story of Faust’s journey from Hungary to Leipzig, his love for Marguerite, his temptation by Mephistopheles and his final fall into the abyss of hell, all set in a variety of vivid musical scenes.
The soloists Jennifer Larmore as Marguerite, Gregory Kunde as Faust, Nicolas Cavallier as Méphistophéles and Jonathan May as Brander, unfolded the story with wonderfully emotive singing and actions that created a vivid portrayal of events that depicted the drama perfectly.
Gregory Kunde made a dramatic Faust, singing and acting his part with tremendous power that made his plight totally convincing. His lyrical singing was a highlight of the concert, featuring a wide range of emotional and dramatic intensity.
Faust’s nemesis, Méphistophéles was sung with a dark and terrifying menace by Nicolas Cavallier. His portrayal made an alluring and tormenting character and his rich vocal tone and impish, chilling depiction held the audience enthralled.
Jennifer Larmore sang Marguerite beautifully with a fine portrayal of her love for Faust and her ultimate loss. Her ballad The King of Thulé was particularly evocative and the wonderful love duet with Faust was another highlight of the evening.
Jonathan May had a minor role with Brander’s drinking song, but was confidently supported by the men of the chorus, who all adding to the general mêlée and humour.
The RSNO Chorus were on fine form in a variety of guises as the journey progressed ranging from peasants, soldiers, students and drinkers to Christians, spirits and finally damned souls. Their director Timothy Dean had obviously worked hard to train the chorus for their many important choruses and the integral interactions demanded, which kept the action moving with such momentum. They sang with gusto, precision, wonderful dynamics and clear French diction. The use of a large screen behind the chorus to show the translation was an added bonus and ensured the audience could follow the story as it unfolded.
The major highlight throughout the evening however was the performance by the musicians of the RSNO, who played superbly and with great intensity throughout. It was difficult to believe Stéphane Denève was conducting this work for the first time, such was his grasp and complete understanding of the score. He enabled the work to unfold its broad canvas in a totally engrossing way from the tenderness of the opening nature episodes to the pandemonium of the chase and final demise of Faust.
It was a rare experience to hear this unique work in its entirety and the exceptional performance directed by Stéphan Denève and the RSNO had an overpowering impact the audience will not forget.