Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique - Davis
PentaTone RQR PTC 5186 184
Classical - Orchestral
Hector Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique Op. 14
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam
Sir Colin Davis (conductor)
Review by John Broggio - November 11, 2007
This must count as one of the best RQR recordings (from a musical standpoint) yet issued and is one of the most amazing transformations of the sonic signature of the Concertgebouw Orchestra that I have heard to date.
At no point, if this were played as part of a blind listening test, could one possibly identify that the orchestra was not French (except for such rock solid tuning for the period!) One might well suppose that the orchestra was recorded in the Concertgebouw but not that it was the Concertgebouw Orchestra itself in front of the microphones such is the conjuring trick that Colin Davis pulled off with this extraordinary score. The sound of the orchestra is ideal for the piece - graceful yet never thin, powerful but not too weighty and, above all, relishing every detail in the score (easily audible with the violins left and right of the podium). This should not be surprising given that they have at the helm one of, if not the greatest, conductor of Berlioz's music that has lived since recordings have been made and Colin Davis does not disappoint.
The mysterious opening of the first movement soon gives way to ardent passion before the slumber returns to restore balm to the senses. The waltz is a true dance and I had trouble stopping my feet from tapping along in time to the music! Where many come to grief in this epic is the middle movement - a performance can be viscerally exciting in the faster movements but if one's mind drifts in the pastoral scenes then all is lost for it becomes a dreadfully boring 15+ minutes otherwise. This is not the case here; one can almost feel the rustle of the wind in ones hair and see the approaching storm clouds. Perhaps most brilliantly of all, the cor anglais really does manage to sound as though it is echoing a song in from another valley - tribute indeed to all concerned. Needless to say, the electricity is present in both the March and the Witches Sabbath where the Concertgebouw manage to outdo all "period" performances I have heard in terms of the shock of the timbres and effects that Berlioz deploys - absolutely gripping right to the last swish of the strings bows that round out the sound of the final brass chord.
The sound is exceptional in its sensitivity; few manage to capture so many details whilst remaining faithful to the timbre of instruments. Perhaps it should be no surprise that the original engineer, Vittorio Negri, is an accomplished musician himself and so is more attuned to such aspects than others of his era. The tapes have lasted well and Pentatone have clearly lavished great care on presenting them as they were surely meant to be heard, although one occasionally wonders whether a centre channel in the original recording would have benefited the sometimes dense textures even more. [Those familiar with the series will of course be aware that Pentatone faithfully reproduce the quadrophonic recordings as intended, i.e. no centre channel.]
I can only hope that more Berlioz from this conductor can make its way onto SACD.
Copyright © 2007 John Broggio and HRAudio.net