Reviewing Immerseel’s Recording of Berlioz’s ‘Symphonie Fantastique’

Berlioz’s ‘Symphonie Fantastique’ tells the tale of an artist’s opium fuelled hallucinations through the use of a rich and varied musical canvas unified by a returning idée fixe. This recording works because it invokes a world of fantasy, and is not just pleasant background music. Care is taken to conjure the hallucination which Berlioz’s imaginative scoring insinuates; from the fragile oboe and cor anglais duet opening Scène aux Champs to the vociferous tutti passages ending the Marche au Supplice, the orchestra demonstrates exactly why the composer has orchestrated in the way that he has.

Period instruments are chosen for an authentic sound, a decision that echoes Jos Van Immerseel’s assessment of the forces required; the recording uses a relatively small string section favouring Berlioz’s ideal of accuracy over spectacle alone. The strings are at their most expressive in the second movement, with sympathetic phrasing and delicacy over their articulation. The dynamic contrast, which is particularly evident in the crescendo near the opening of Marche au Supplice supplied fitting intensity, and helped carry the fantasy without becoming vulgar and excessive.  The only real problem with the recording is the sloppiness of the col legno squeaks in Songe d’une nuit du Sabbat, which sounds neither musical, nor evocative of a bubbling cauldron. However, other than that this is an excellent recording of Berlioz’s magnum opus.

Star Review: 4 Stars

This CD is available on Amazon via the following link: http://amzn.to/cNKC3E

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An Interview with Pei Ann

“I’m from a culture where you grow up, work, earn money and that’s it”

Today I met the Malaysian jazz violinist Pei Ann who is currently studying for a Graduate Diploma at Birmingham Conservatoire. For the benefit of those unfamiliar with Pei Ann and her music, the first word that comes to mind when listening to her is fusion; she successfully assimilates her diverse influences ranging from Chick Corea to Jewish Klezmer to Latin American music. It is not the tone, or the technique used in these influences that Pei Ann takes away, it is instead the flow of the musical lines and the general delivery; it is not the detail that is important, but what the music is trying to convey which is important.

“I’m still learning, so I’m not ready to spread my gospel of music yet”

Pei Ann found formal education important in her development as a musician; she began her musical training in Malaysia as a classical violinist, and progressed through the grades in the conventional way. Already an increasingly versatile performer Pei Ann moved on to study Jazz Violin in Australia and is continuing her Jazz studies here in Birmingham.

What does the future hold for the violinist? While Pei Ann says she would one day like to go Back Packing, for the moment she is “very focused on (her) music, and that is my priority”.

Symphonie Fantastique

Star Review: 4 Stars

Berlioz’s ‘Symphonie Fantastique’ tells the tale of an artist’s opium fuelled hallucinations through the use of a rich and varied musical canvas unified by a returning idée fixe. This recording works because it invokes a world of fantasy, and is not just pleasant background music. Care is taken to conjure the hallucination which Berlioz’s imaginative scoring insinuates; from the fragile oboe and cor anglais duet opening Scène aux Champs to the vociferous tutti passages ending the Marche au Supplice, the orchestra demonstrates exactly why the composer has orchestrated in the way that he has.
Period instruments are chosen for an authentic sound, a decision that echoes Jos Van Immerseel’s assessment of the forces required; the recording uses a relatively small string section favouring Berlioz’s ideal of accuracy over spectacle alone. The strings are at their most expressive in the second movement, with sympathetic phrasing and delicacy over their articulation. The dynamic contrast, which is particularly evident in the crescendo near the opening of Marche au Supplice supplied fitting intensity, and helped carry the fantasy without becoming vulgar and excessive. The only real problem with the recording is the sloppiness of the col legno squeaks in Songe d’une nuit du Sabbat, which sounds neither musical, nor evocative of a bubbling cauldron. However, other than that this is an excellent recording of Berlioz’s magnum opus.

A Soirée with the Labeques

Thursdays concert ‘A Soirée with the Labèques’ opened triumphantly with Berlioz’s ‘Le Corsaire’, the CBSO continuing the drama and energy throughout the work, with subdued tension in the Adagio, which was finally released in the fiery final movement. This energy was matched with the conductor’s unusual conducting style, an extrovert demonstration of large shapes combined with plenty of movement.
Following this was the introduction of the Labèque sisters, performing Debussy’s ‘En Blanc et Noir’. Their synchronous performance of the unison passages was stunning. The sisters captured the subtle interplay between pianos, showing a deep understanding for each other’s performance; also bringing visual splendour to the event, although some of the chords in the final movement looked more thunderous than they sounded!
Poulenc’s ‘Concerto for Two Pianos’ was without doubt the highlight of the evening; a rich cascade of colours and original sounds. The pianists handled the quirky virtuosity of the work well; particularly the repeated notes, as well as the sensitive pedalling that was used to imitate the gamelan soundworld. The orchestra handled the sparse passages in the opening movement delicately. The piece was not without small flaws however; the percussion seemed overly dominant at times, and a key moment in the first movement was marred by a trumpet misjudgment.
The second half of the programme was dedicated to music by Ravel, firstly ‘Mother Goose Suite’ which was as safe, if unadventurous interpretation. This was followed by ‘Bolero’. Always a crowd pleaser; the score had been approached with imagination and thoughtful direction, with a careful balancing of instruments. Special note should go to the solo trombonist whose solo lifted the audience’s spirits ready for the climactic ending to an enjoyable concert.