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
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.