Berlioz • Varese

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Berlioz,Varese
LABELS: BR Klassik
ALBUM TITLE: Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique; Varese: Ionisation
WORKS: Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique; Varese: Ionisation
PERFORMER: Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Mariss Jansons
CATALOGUE NO: 900121

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New recordings of Berlioz’s neurotic self-exploration are coming thick and fast, but this one doesn’t need its unusual coupling to stand out. Mariss Jansons’s interpretation is distinctive enough to stand alone on this disc, which captures the immediacy of a live performance by the excellent Munich orchestra in vividly recorded sound. This is a big reading, spacious and detailed, but one that emphasises the unease underlying even the most lyrical passages. The ‘Rêveries’ sound subtly insistent, the idée fixe obsessive; the ball sounds ethereal and half unreal from the outset, and even the pastoral shawms in the fields are ominous, the gathering thunder foreboding ahead of the ‘March to the Scaffold’. Jansons takes this with measured tread – he not only unleashes the percussion, but brings out the string writhings that punctuate it, foreshadowing a feverishly light-footed ‘Witches’ Sabbath’. It’s less restrained than Robin Ticciati’s version (reviewed June 2012), but no less valid.

Jansons’s Symphonie is coupled with a 2010 live performance of Varèse’s 1929 bid to dispense with musical forms and structures, invoking the imagery of clashing subatomic particles in shifting rhythms. Whatever its historical importance, its mix of sirens and percussion might seem an odd match for Berlioz’s subtle hues, but the performance is effective. 

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Michael Scott Rohan