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Hector BERLIOZ (1803-69)
Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14.

Concertgebouw Orchestra/Sir Colin Davis.
Recorded in the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam in January 1974 [ADD]
PHILIPS 50 GREAT RECORDINGS 464 692-2 [55.27]

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One of several recordings of this favourite work, Davis’s 1974 version (originally 6500 774) with the Concertgebouw is a wonderfully realised, rounded interpretation (there are recordings with the London Symphony Orchestra and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra also).

When it appeared in the Philips Solo series (446 202-2), two excerpts from Roméo et Juliette acted as fillers. One has to ask, therefore, where they have gone, for 55 minutes makes for a low playing time these days, no matter what the stature of the interpretation.

Davis' affinity with Berlioz is now the stuff of legend, reaffirmed in the light of the recent LSO Live series (see various reports of the concerts themselves in the Seen and Heard part of this site). His understanding of Berlioz’s unique compositional practices is amply demonstrated in this Concertgebouw Symphonie fantastique. All of the individual qualities of Berlioz's orchestration are unapologetically realised: the grotesqueries of the final movement are tellingly presented (listen to the clarinet’s bizarre distortion of the motto theme, for example) as are the macabre festivities of the ‘Marche au supplice’ and the threadbare lines and narrative structure of the ‘Scène aux champs’, revealing a held back, repressed emotion. If one is to quibble, only the Valse is perhaps not quite abandoned enough towards its conclusion (which would have thrown the contrast to the opening of the third movement into sharper relief).

None of this is to demean the positive qualities of this performance. The recording is excellent, displaying, especially, tremendous clarity in the bass.


Colin Clarke

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