Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique
Leonard Slatkin may not be a celebrated or ‘authentic’ Berlioz interpreter, but his polished, traditional approach isn’t negligible. His reading is somewhat monumental, but not cripplingly slow – closer to Sir Colin Davis than Charles Munch – and beautifully detailed. There’s plenty of atmosphere in the earlier, innocent movements, in a notably vivid, spacious recording, from which an elegant Un bal movement especially gains. The unease that builds beneath the bucolic Scène aux champs is nicely evoked, with some fine playing from the Lyon strings and distantly thunderous percussion. The Marche au supplice builds powerfully, with impressively snarling brass; but its menace is too straightforward. What Slatkin doesn’t evoke is the sheer nightmarish frenzy of the experience – and still less so in the Songe d’une nuit de Sabbat which follows. After all, this is supposed to be a mingled drug-dream and nervous breakdown, with the Sabbat an inferno of masochistic fantasy. Slatkin is never unmusical, but the effect remains rather detached, leaving us as onlookers at delirium, rather than empathic sharers.
As the coupling, an alternative version of Un bal sounds intriguing, with a cornet solo added to favour a visiting virtuoso, but frankly this doesn’t add very much. The Corsaire Overture is lively but rather rushed. But excellent playing and recording still gives this disc a respectable place in a crowded market; it’s certainly better than Naxos’s earlier versions.
Michael Scott Rohan