Hector Berlioz : La damnation de Faust
Véronique Gens (Marguérite), David Kuebler (Faust), Gilles Cachemaille (Méphistophélès), Werner Van Mechelen (Brander)
Choeur de Brabant et Orchestre Philharmonique Royal des Flandres, Muhai Tang (conductor)
There was a time when French people fans had to cross the channel to get strong Berlioz performances. It seems that it is now in Belgium that one can experience the true magic of this composer.
The performance of La Damnation de Faust which Muhai Tang conducted with the Antwerp forces was indeed world-class, surpassing in every aspect the one that the Paris Orchestra gave not long ago under G Pretre.
To start with, Muhai Tang’s soloists were remarquable. It helps tremendously to have a near complete set of native French principals. D Kuebler although American, had a great enonciation. More importantly, he had all the notes rising to the challenges of such a difficult part. G Caichemaille tone, projection and presence were ideal. Finally, V Gens won every one heart. In a part usually reserved to mezzos, her clear, liquid soprano was outstanding, in particular in the Roi de Thulé aria. All in all, a
remarkable, imaginative and succesful casting.
However, the real hero of the evening proved to be the conductor. M Tang is China’s most famous conductor. He was spotted by H Von Karajan who took him to the West where he became his assistant and conducted the Berlin Philarmonic Orchestra several times. He is the principal conductor of the Gulbekian Orchestra and was for several years the chief conductor of this orchestra.
In such a difficult work, he was able to meet all its challenges bringing all the details of Berlioz superb orchestration, pacing the work as a whole and generating enthousiasm from his forces. The sound he got from his forces was controlled and always musical. Orchestral tuttis were always clear with a colored sound. Details and novelties of the orchestration kept caming through but not at the expense of the musical purpose. (Berlioz would haveapproved). Passages like the Brass accompagment of the Mephisto Aria, the rubato of the cor anglais, the swagger of the choral passages all suddenly appeared as totally new. Where were records executives hiding when such a performance was available ?