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Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869) L’Enfance du Christ, Op.25 (1853/4), Shepherds’ Farewell [4:33] Roméo et Juliette, Op.17 (1839), Scene 1c – Premiers transports que nul n’oublie! [7:20] Symphonie Fantastique Op.14/H48 (1830) [57:10]
London Symphony Orchestra/Colin Davis
rec. January 2000 (Roméo), September 2000 (Symphonie), December 2006 (Shepherds), Barbican, London ALTOALC1370 [69:20]
Berlioz and the late Sir Colin Davis seem almost synonymous. This live recording of the wonderful Symphonie Fantastique was his fourth, having previously recorded the work, in the studio for Philips with the LSO, VPO and probably most famously with the Royal Concertgebouw. It has been available as an individual CD and in three box sets of LSO Live recordings. This re-release at budget point from Alto will appeal to those who want just a sample of Davis’s live Berlioz. The other two tracks come from what is, in both cases, the third recording of the works; I have all three. L’Enfance du Christ is the earliest, dating from 1962, and I have two of Roméo et Juliette, missing the middle version with VPO; the orchestra otherwise being the LSO.
The Shepherds’ Farewell was the first part of L’Enfance du Christ to be written. It works well on its own and I have to confess that sometimes that is how I play it. It’s an enchanting piece and very moving. This version is good although I retain an affection for the one from 1962, now on Double Decca, sung by the St. Anthony Singers. The aria from Roméo et Juliette, Premiers transports que nul n’oublie! is beautifully sung by Daniela Barcellona. Just as with the first song it should surely tempt the listener to buy the complete work.
Symphonie Fantastique is given a splendid performance by Davis and the LSO and sounds magnificent in the Barbican (review of original release). Paul Corfield Godfrey in his positive review in the Berlioz Odyssey notes that the second movement incorporates Berlioz’s later-added cornet solo, and that the bells in the finale are, as so often, about three octaves too high for what the composer clearly intended - at least if his alternative scoring for piano is to be believed. Once again, I’m struck by the originality of this extraordinary work. The five movements pass by quickly, whilst leaving their mark. I detect some influence of Beethoven in the third movement Scène aux champs (Scene in the fields) but it is remarkable that it was written in 1830. The March to the Scaffold is suitably menacing but I also love hearing the rasp of “original instruments” in performances like that by John Eliot Gardiner and his Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique on Philips. The final Dream of a Witches' Sabbath is suitably deranged and brings the symphony to a triumphant conclusion. The applause, has been excised which, in this case, seems a shame.
There are many great recordings of this work: Beecham, Munch, Van Beinum and Markevich, to name just four. This is a fine version and stands as an excellent introduction at a modest price to the uninitiated and inexpensive for those wanting another recording. There is a lovely painting on the cover by Pierre-Narcisse Guérin, mastering by Paul Arden-Taylor and good concise notes by James Murray. These include reference to Berlioz’s obsession with the actress Harriet Smithson and how it influenced the work. A super CD, just right for car journeys. David R Dunsmore
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