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Hector BERLIOZ (1803 - 1869)
CD1 [74.18]
Symphonie Fantastique a. Op 14 [52.44]
Le Carnaval Romain.b Op 9 [ 8.39]
La Damnation de Faust c. Op 24 (Extracts) [12.13]
CD2 [71.30]
Réverie et caprice. d Op 8 [ 7.25]
Les Nuits d'été.e Op 7 [29.08]
La Damnation de Faust f Op 24 (excerpts) [24.50]
Requiem. g Op 5 (excerpt) [10.21]
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/ Herbert von Karajan a / Lorin Maazel b
Boston Symphony Orchestra / Seiji Ozawa c
Arthur Grumiaux (violin). New Philharmonia Orchestra /Edo de Waart d
Régine Crespin (soprano). L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/ Ansermet e
Edith Mathis, Stuart Burrows, Boston Symphony Orch. / Seiji Ozawa f
Luciano Pavarotti, Ernst-Senff-Chor, Berlin Philharmonic/James Levineg
Recorded: - 1974 (op 24), 1975 (op14), 1985 (op 9), 1992 (op 5), 1971 (op 8), 1963 (op 7) ADD (ops 7,8,14,24) DDD (ops 5, 9)
DG Panorama 469 118-2 [145.48]

The item on this Panorama release from DG that marks it out is its inclusion of the Régine Crespin performance of Les Nuits d'été. It goes back to 1963 and was a Decca production - old rivals are all one nowadays so some borrowing clearly has taken place. The six songs are quite lovely and Crespin's radiant, creamy tone along with her magical interpretation makes this unforgettable. The recording has weathered well and the OSR under Ansermet (a Decca stalwart for years I recall with his orchestra that was never in the top flight but ever dependable) give excellent support. Of the set Le Spectre de la rose and the mournful Absence are outstanding. At £8 for the 2CD pairing it is obvious why, but it is still a shame that a translation of the words could not have been included for the extra insights that would have given. The track numbers and timings for "Sur les lagunes" and "Absence" are wrongly printed in the accompanying booklet and should be reversed.

The main work on the release is the von Karajan 1975 recording of the Symphonie Fantastique. A man of his previous eminence with Deutsche Grammophon must be turning in his grave to see his major recordings relegated to mere portions of a cheap label twofer. Tempus fugit. This is an excellent performance following a sluggish opening. Though it does not have the power and drive of the classic Colin Davis recording this is a reading to enjoy. The Berliners were in splendid form at the time and with a recording of near demonstration quality for its date it will stand comparison with many current versions. The strings were at their seductive best in Scéne aux champs and the March to the Scaffold and the Witches Sabbath were exciting enough for anyone - a tolling bell added to the Dies Irae theme giving extra drama.

Fillers are always needed in this type of disc and the Berlin Phil, with Maazel this time, gave a bravura version of the orchestral showpiece Roman Carnival. Spread over the two CDs were extracts from the Damnation of Faust, with three orchestral highlights including the Hungarian March (Ozawa and the Boston Symphony in a noticeably different acoustic from the Berlin recordings) and four vocal sections with Edith Mathis and Stuart Burrows as fine soloists.

A delightful Romance for Violin features Arthur Grumiaux in ravishing form. He has a rich, warm tone that entrances each time I come across his recordings and here is at his best in this brief, richly romantic work. The Sanctus from Berlioz' Requiem completes the disc. A cynic might say that it's there to allow Pavarotti's name to be featured - but I wouldn't dare. Actually he is in fine voice, inevitably sounding operatic, and with an excellent chorus (showing up well in the fugal Hosanna in excelsis ) and the Berlin Phil again and Levine this is a worthwhile ending.

This Panorama release confirms the good value the label is offering. An excellent double disc bargain - especially for Régine Crespin admirers.


Harry Downey


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