With relentless drive, Daniel Barenboim propelled the Orchestre de Paris and Chorus to a satisfying performance of Berlioz' "Romeo et Juliette" at the Kennedy Center last night. A totally fulfilling performance of the work is probably impossible given the symphony's unwieldy structure and uneven quality. It has some of Berlioz' most sublime music, but it also contains some of his most banal.
The real glory belongs to the orchestra which Berlioz uses to express his deepest feelings, leaving the more routine business to the chorus and soloists, Jessye Norman and Stuart Burrows handled their brief solos expressively and the small chorus was dazzlingly responsive in the scherzet too, but the real core of the evening started with the orchestral passage depicting Romeo alone.
Barenhoim's rather tight rein on the orchestra worked well in some sections, turning, for example, the Queen Mab scherzo into an ethereal shimmer. Other sections, such as the love scene and Romeo alone, needed a more expansive approach to reach the emotional depths Berlioz had in mind.
Jules Bastin's singing of Friar Laurence's passage was routine, but then so is the music. With commendable energy, Barenboim turned the final, banal chorus into a rousing close.