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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Hector BERLIOZ (1803 - 1869)
Symphonie Fantastique Op. 14 (1830)
Le Corsaire Op.21 (1844)
Orchestre de Paris/Herbert von Karajan (Op.14)
Hallé Orchestra/Sir John Barbirolli (Op. 21)
Directed by Roger Benamou (Op. 14) and Walter Todds (Op.21).
recorded in Paris 25th June 1970, (Op. 14), and in the Free Trade Hall, Manchester 17th January, 1962.
EMI CLASSIC ARCHIVE DVA 490 112-9 [1DVD: 62.51]


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Herbert von Karajan made many video productions for his own company, Telemondial, but I donít think he ever recorded Berliozís symphony. Much of his recorded repertoire is now owned and distributed by Sony, but not much of this has reached DVD as yet. This EMI DVD is therefore doubly welcome as it preserves Karajanís interpretation of the Symphonie Fantastique, well directed with clear sound.

The Orchestre de Paris is not, nor is likely to become the Berlin Philharmonic, but there is no problem with the French performance. This was made at the time when Karajan had a relationship with Franceís prime ensemble, partially as a result of the maestroís methods of reining in on the Berlin Philharmonic and their contracts with DG.

The style of direction is different from the majority of Karajanís own productions. In these, there is an almost narcissistic emphasis on the conductor with shots from front and rear, and also shot over instruments as the performance progresses. The current film reduces the frequency of shots of the conductor, giving us much more of the activity in the orchestra. Karajanís interpretation of the Symphonie Fantastique is well known from his recordings Ė one with the Philharmonia on EMI, and two with the Berlin Philharmonic on DG. The playing of the French band does not have the tonal splendour of their German competitors, but there is more spontaneity present. A rather amusing part of the film is the end of the last movement, when, with a rush of adrenaline in both conductor and orchestra, Karajanís normally immaculate hair styling goes to pot. Throughout the rest of the film, this immaculately fashioned hair (looks as though it is back combed and blow-dried to make him look taller) becomes somewhat dishevelled, and falls over his face at the close. How the mighty are fallen.

The relatively coarse standard of orchestral tone when compared with his CD recordings is most noticeable in the third movement (Scène au champs). Although I have noted this it is only very slightly less than perfect and no-one should be in the least bit concerned.

The sound is in very tolerable stereo, and the film is in colour, different from some of the other productions in this series. Add to this a bargain price, then you have a bargain.

Not only do we have the Symphonie Fantastique on this DVD, but we are treated to a much earlier performance of Le Corsair, conducted by that other Berlioz specialist, Sir John Barbirolli. This was filmed by the BBC in black and white at a concert in the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, with the platform re-arranged to suit the film. This looks a little strange with the orchestra set well back on the stage and an expanse of space between conductor and ensemble.

Once again, Barbirolliís performances of Berlioz are reasonably well known, and this is a chance to watch conductor and his favourite players enjoying themselves in concert. Barbirolliís beat is clear and decisive, and with a few minor slips the playing is first class. On this part of the DVD, the vision is in black and white, with mono sound.

A very enjoyable DVD, and highly recommended.

John Phillips

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