MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around   2022
 57,903 reviews
   and more ... and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here
Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer
 
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             

Some items
to consider

new MWI
Current reviews

old MWI
pre-2023 reviews

paid for
advertisements

Acte Prealable Polish recordings

Forgotten Recordings
Forgotten Recordings
All Forgotten Records Reviews

TROUBADISC
Troubadisc Weinberg- TROCD01450

All Troubadisc reviews


FOGHORN Classics

Alexandra-Quartet
Brahms String Quartets

All Foghorn Reviews


All HDTT reviews


Songs to Harp from
the Old and New World


all Nimbus reviews



all tudor reviews


Follow us on Twitter


Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
   
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Contributing Editor
Ralph Moore
Webmaster
   David Barker
Postmaster
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger


Support us financially by purchasing this from

Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
Symphonie fantastique Op. 14 (1830) [54:50]
Rêverie et caprice Op. 8 (1841) [9:57]
La mort d’Ophélie Op. 18 No. 2 (1842, orch. 1848) [9:27]
Sara la baigneuse Op. 11 (c. 1849) [7:08]
Philippe Quint (violin, Rêverie et caprice)
Utah Symphony Chorus, University of Utah Chamber Choir (La mort d’Ophélie, Sara la baigneuse)
Utah Symphony Orchestra/Thierry Fischer
rec. 2019, Abravanel Hall, Salt Lake City, USA
HYPERION CDA68324 [80:33]

For the past ten years, the conductor Thierry Fischer has been for the Utah Symphony Orchestra what Mariss Jansons did for the Oslo Philharmonic and Simon Rattle for the City of Birmingham orchestra: he lifted a decent and well-regarded local orchestra up to an altogether higher level. Their recordings, chiefly of French music, have generally been well received. Now they come with one of the cornerstones of that repertoire, Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique.

One of the first things I noticed in the opening Rêveries - Passions was how exactly Fischer was following the many precise indications which Berlioz had put into his score: the phrasing, the balance between the instruments and the numerous slight quickenings and slowings that he asks for. Next came the excellence of the woodwinds, notably the first flute in the first statement of the idèe fixe: the motto theme of the whole work which represents the beloved. Perhaps the feeling of yearning is not wholly evoked, but it is certainly marvellous playing.

The following movement, Un bal, features the only appearance of two harps. These come over nicely and clearly, possibly slightly boosted by the engineers (they are notoriously hard to capture). The playing of the strings is also noticeably stylish, and the whole movement sings and dances, light on its feet.

The Scène aux champs can drag, but Fischer keeps it moving and full of interest. Again, there is good solo work from the winds. I wonder whether the opening solo for cor anglais gave Wagner the idea of Siegfried’s ill-fated attempts before he rouses Fafner. The closing passages for four timpani tuned to different notes, suggesting distant thunder, are mysterious and evocative.

The Marche au supplice is appropriately grim and sinister. Again, I noted the precision of execution in the fast rhythmic passages. The moment near the end where the idée fixe is cut off by the guillotines come as the shock it should.

The final Songe d’une nuit du sabbat is a very varied piece. The mysterious opening is full of atmospheric sounds. Then we have the mocking version of the idée fixe squealed out by the E flat clarinet, taken up and elaborated by the rest of the orchestra. Next comes the Dies irae on two tubas – Berlioz originally wrote for ophicleides, which produce rasping grunts rather than the purer and louder notes of tubas – immediately mocked by the woodwind at twice the speed. This turns into a round dance with the idée fixe and the Dies irae combined together in canonic writing which is never quite fugal. All this is forcefully and effectively done.

This is certainly a good performance of the Symphonie fantastique, and one would be well content if one heard it in concert. But this is a hotly competitive field. There are many other versions to consider, including such classics as Charles Munch’s (he recorded it twice, and the 1954 version is the one to go for) and Colin Davis’s (he recorded it four times, and the 1974 Concertgebouw version is the best). Among the conductors of recent versions, there are Riccardo Muti (the coupling is the Symphonie’s sequel Lélio), Robin Ticciati (in a historically informed performance) and François-Xavier Roth (two versions on original instruments). Compared to those, this recording is slightly lacking in magic.

The couplings may change things, however, for they are exceptionally interesting. The Rêverie et caprice is based on an aria Berlioz wrote for the character Teresa in his opera Benvenuto Cellini but rejected. (You can hear it in the Appendix to John Nelson’s recording of the opera.) In its revised version, it is a violin concertante work, and the nearest Berlioz came to writing an actual concerto; Harold in Italy, despite its solo viola, is hardly that. It is not major Berlioz but Philippe Quint’s luscious violin playing makes it a very pleasant piece.

The other two works involve a chorus, in which the orchestra is joined by the Utah Symphony Chorus, strengthened by the University of Utah Chamber Choir. La mort d’Ophélie sets a French translation of the speech in Hamlet in which Gertrude describes Ophelia’s death by drowning. With its lilting rhythm, it is more melancholic than tragic, and it has a clear reminiscence of the opening of the idée fixe from the symphony. Sara la baigneuse sets a poem from Victor Hugo’s Les Orientales for three choral groups, allowing some very intricate textures. This is also charmingly done.

The recording is rich and full. The booklet notes are by the Berlioz expert David Cairns, no less. There are texts and translations of the two choral works (the translation of the Hamlet passage back into English has been particularly tactfully done). A suggestive cover picture has the title Sarah bathing. So, even if the performance of the symphony is not a world-beater, the couplings make this a worthwhile issue.

Stephen Barber



Advertising on
Musicweb


Donate and keep us afloat

 

New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Chandos recordings
All Chandos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews


all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews


All APR reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews

 

Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount