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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Hector BERLIOZ (1803-69)
Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14. Roméo et Juliette – Love Scene.

Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Järvi.
Recorded in Music Hall, Cincinnati, Ohio on October 8th-10th, 2000. [DDD]
TELARC DSD CD-80578 [71.22]


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This disc marks Paavo Järvi’s assumption of the position of Music Director of the Cincinnati Symphony in September 2001. Given the amount of recorded competition, the Symphonie fantastique is indeed a daring choice, but there is no doubt that Järvi has much to say in this piece. His study of the score has patently been long and hard, and he has communicated his ideas beautifully to his players, not to mention galvanizing them frequently into playing of top-flight quality. The recording has tremendous depth: occasionally, there is the feeling that it is just that little bit too resonant.

The preparation Järvi and his players have lavished on the Symphonie fantastique is evident in their presentation of the idée fixe. It is restless, as it should be, but scrupulously phrased. What strikes one most forcefully is Järvi's impressive knowledge of the score: balance is always carefully judged. Listen to the flowing Scène aux champs, where Järvi shows his understanding of Berlioz’s idiom by unashamedly presenting the fragmentation at the close. The Bal is suavely done (almost Schubertian at one point, around 2'25), and the final Witches’ Sabbath is dramatic, with a real sense of narrative.

This should, therefore, add up to a clear recommendation. In the final analysis, there is something missing, however. Despite many fascinating moments along the way, one does not enter into Berlioz’s unique world. At no point could the vital description ‘hallucinatory’ be applied to this reading. Sir Colin Davis put down his most recent thoughts on this piece in the LSO Live series, recorded in September 2000 in the Barbican (LSO 0007), which at the price is unmissable. Do not forget, also, Davis’s 1974 Concertgebouw account recently reissued in Philips’ 50 Great Recordings series (464 592-2: see my review).

Järvi’s coupling is the Love Scene from Roméo et Juliette. A sense of the theatre comes to the fore and this represents in many ways the best of the disc. It ends quietly, leaving the delicacy of Berlioz’s writing suspended in the air. Again, Davis provides strong competition, as does the complete Roméo et Juliette conducted by Cambreling on Hänssler Faszination CD93.005, the latter enterprisingly coupled with Messiaen's L'Ascension.

All in all, I must say I prefer Järvi live, if his recent appearance with the Philharmonia Orchestra is anything to go by (see Seen and Heard). At full price, and given the competition, it is hard to give a wholehearted recommendation to this disc.

Colin Clarke


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