It’s been a long time since I’ve listened to Berlioz’ Romeo and Juliet.

Its traditional description as a “dramatic symphony” is slightly misleading: to paraphrase Voltaire’s aperçu about the Holy Roman Empire, it’s neither a symphony nor particularly dramatic.

Moreover, I’d forgotten just how little singing the doomed couple have. They are not real characters as are Mephistopheles, Faust or Marguerite in The Damnation of Faust, but more the adumbration of certain emotions. 


Before I go any further, I want to commend this recording as the latest achievement in John Nelson’s magisterial traversal of the Berlioz canon. I’m often amazed at how many superb ensembles, especially in northeast France for some reason, that one wouldn’t naturally include in even the second tier of international orchestra ‘league tables’ which seem to punch well above their weight in whatever they do. 

On the strength of this performance, the Strasbourg Philharmonic should be near the top. The big scenes, notably the “Capulet’s Ball”, the “Love Scene” – where the instrumentation expresses the poignancy as well as any singer...