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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