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Customer Reviews

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HALL OF FAMEon February 23, 2008
I was ready to give this EMI budget two-fre of Berlioz's Damnation de Fuast three stars, strictly on my memory of Georges Pretre's bald-faced, sometimes brash conducting. But once I begn listening again, a lot caught my ear. It's always a god sign when Faust's treacherous opening solo is well sung, and Nicolai Gedda is first-rate, singing with apparent ease and lovely style. Then there's the very French orchestra and chorus. They add a particular flavor that even the greatest orchestras outside France can't match--Berlioz sounds at home in Paris, as Johann Stauss does in Vienna.

Even though the mezzo doesn't have a large part, I originally bought this recording for Janet Baker, who is intense and superb in every way--as she is in the filler, her classic recording of La Mort de Cleopatra (which can be had in several reissues; I'd find oe with the latest remastering since the sonics here are a bit thin and edgy). By the time I got to Gabriel Bacquier's exciting and sinuous Mephistopheles, a really nasty, confident devil, I was hooked.

It's only because of the staggeringly strong competition from Myung-Whun Chung and Igor Markevitch, both brilliantly performed in the Gallic vein, along with estimable version from Colin Davis and Charles Munch, that I can't quite put this set in top place. It certainly has a great deal of drama going for it, however, and the wide-ranging sonics are thrilling.
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on May 2, 2009
"The Damnation of Faust" by Berlioz is the most wonderful music and this cast is superb. "Damnation" is not an opera but rather a symphonic piece of music with many wonderful operatic scene and arias. This music is usually performed in a symphony concert format, but recently had an excellent stage production at the Metropolitan Opera.

If you are not familiar with this music you are in for a treat! If you are familiar with Marguarite's famous aria "D'amour l'ardente flamme" you will love Janet Baker's singing. She has a sweet, true mezzo voice but without the deep passion and complexity of a mezzo such as Olga Borodina.

I have become addicted to this recording and usually listen to it every day!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon February 1, 2009
If you take a glance at my review of the woeful Davis/LSO Live version of this wonderful work, you will see that, like the Santa Fe listener, I put this set near the top of the list of recommendations. Unlike him, I do not rate the Chung recording; for me, there is no better account than Solti's riotous 1981 set, with an infinitely touching Von Stade almost as good as Janet Baker here in the Pretre recording, and Van Dam in incomparable form - much better than his later assumption, when the voice had started to dry out - as a subtle, insinuating demon. I almost always have reservations about Nicolai Gedda's slightly bleaty tone, but he is fully up to the demands of the eponymous rôle, and while Bacquier is not quite so elegant and vocally impressive as Van Dam, he characterises marvellously. Add to that the authentic Gallic idiom provided by Pretre and French forces, and you have a winner. This set is made even more desirable by the inclusion of Janet Baker's astounding account of "La Mort de Cléopâtre" - one of her finest performances ever on disc and you have an irresisitible package at a bargain price. Having said that, another excellent alternative version, especially if French authenticity is your priority, is the wonderful Markevitch set (see my review).
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on August 4, 2012
Based on the great line-up of singers and relatively positive reviews I bought this version but regretted my decision quickly once I had listened to it. Chung's and Davis's version are much better because they manage to glue together the, admittedly, disparate parts of the work. This 'opera' isn't really a traditional opera, rather it is a operatic fantasy in many movements which do not easily make a whole. Pretre fails to make this composition work as a whole. Moreover, the dynamic range is too wide, further exaggerating the musical disparity through different scenes, some of which benefit from the wide dynamic range while others fade to the shadows. The orchestra is not bad but the main bright side to this version of the 'opera' is the singing which is fine as expected. However, good singing is not enough to make the Damnation work. I give this CD two and half stars. If I was going to buy the Damnation now, I'd probably buy Chung or Davis. And I probably will at some point since this version is dissatisfactory.
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on June 29, 2010
Damnation De Faust / Mort De Cleopatre This is a recording of La Damnation I have yet to find a match for.
Pretre allows Berlioz to be rough as the composer wished and often noted in his scores in order to avoid good-will-conductors trying to sterilise his edgy music.
Baquier is a Mefistofeles full of sarcasm and crisp diction, ample voiced and intelligent.
What can be said about Gedda's phrasing? He is the type of singer that opera buffs hear on recordings and mourn the loss of belcanto. His phrasing is the pinnacle of french diction and the smoothness of his tone as well as his impeccable passing in a head voice of superb beauty humble most singers around.
I started writing this comment because I read someone comparing Baker to another mezzo. Actually, I wonder how can one speak of Baker's interpretations in one breath with any other mezzo as far as I am concerned.
Speaking of this opera though, she has the ideal weight for the part. Smooth and lyric in the middle with a solid top. Marguerite is no Eboli... The youthfulness called for in this part leads theatres inevitably to the choice of lyric mezzos, that often lack some drama though... What a welcome surprise to hear this lyric mezzo transforming to the verge of dramatic soprano instead of shrinking on the way up. Her "Ô caresses de flamme! Que je voudrais un jour... Voir s'exhaler mon âme" is worth the whole universe of recordings of this part.
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on June 4, 2009
Solid performance, but value of the package is greatly diminished by the lack of a libretto.
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