Gergiev: Berlioz - Symphonie Fantastique (SACD, ISO)
Gergiev: Berlioz – Symphonie Fantastique (SACD, ISO)

Composer: Hector Berlioz
Performer: Olga Borodina
Orchestra: Wiener Philharmoniker
Conductor: Valery Gergiev
Number of Discs: 1 SACD
Format: ISO
Label: Philips
Size: 4.29 GB
Recovery: +3%
Scan: yes

01. Symphonie fantastique, Op.14 – 1. Rêveries. Passions (Largo – Allegro agitato ed appassionato assai)
02. Symphonie fantastique, Op.14 – 2. Un bal (Valse: Allegro non troppo)
03. Symphonie fantastique, Op.14 – 3. Scène aux champs (Adagio)
04. Symphonie fantastique, Op.14 – 4. Marche au supplice (Allegretto non troppo)
05. Symphonie fantastique, Op.14 – 5. Songe d’une nuit du Sabbat (Larghetto – Allegro – Ronde du Sabbat: Poco meno mosso)
06. Cléopâtre – Scène lyrique – 1. “C’en est donc fait”
07. Cléopâtre – Scène lyrique – 3. Méditation: “Grands Pharaons”

A ‘straight’ Fantastique, but still a conctender

I counted up, and I’ve heard the dear old ‘Symphonie fantastique’ 793 times that I’m consicous of. So I wasn’t eager to audition another version. This numbed forebrain would need radical stimulation to care. Happily, I lifted my head quite a few times during Gergiev’s performance. The solo wind playing in the Scene aux champs is meltingly perfect; so is orchestral balance throughout — has this worn-out chunk of boiler plate ever sounded so sheerly beautiful? Gergiev has fresh ideas from bar to bar — he’s a maniac for finding new phrasing in time-worn music. He also brings inner vitality to every movement, including the too often languid third movement set in the countryside. (Most conductors amble through so slowly that these might as well be opium fields.)

Flaws? The first movement comes across as a row of enticing episodes rather than a single arc; in this regard Gergiev falls short of Charles Munch and Colin Davis. By the time we get to the Marche au supplice, however, I was convinced that Gergiev was totally involved, and therefore so was I. He doesn’t pull any grisly stunts on the way to the scaffold, no shocking thumps, thwacks, or braying brass. This is a straight interpretation rather than a fnatastical one, which won’t satisfy listeners conditioned to feel that Munch’s febrile style is the only authentic one. The Vienna Phil.’s refinement is respected by Gergiev. The witches’ sabbath is restless and fast, a nice contrast to the delibedrate march that precedes it. The filler, Mort de Cleopatre, is played and sung intesnely, with ravishing results. Borodina’s French is clotted, however. In any event, I find this a piece of empty theatrical bombast from Berlioz’s early period.

Finally, Philips’ recorded sound is of demonstration quality, adding the last enticement to a seductive, exciting, and original reading. For me, who expected a high-gloss run through, this was a Fantastique equal to all but the very best (the lack being that it isn’t really French enough).

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