Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique; Harold en Italie

COMPOSERS: Berlioz
LABELS: Bel Air Classiques
ALBUM TITLE: Berlioz
WORKS: Symphonie fantastique; Harold en Italie
PERFORMER: Tabea Zimmermann; Orchestre de Paris/Christoph Eschenbach
CATALOGUE NO: BAC016 (NTSC system; dts 5.1; 16.9 picture format)
Christoph Eschenbach is at best a scrupulous conductor, with a clear eye for structure and a good ear for detail. But he’s no Berliozian, on this showing anyway. What we get are the bare outlines of the music, with every note in place, but without any of the passion or the poetry, the fire or frenzy, that should fill them out. Rarely can the Symphonie have sounded less fantastic, or Harold’s Italian wanderings taken him across so featureless a terrain. Sadly, Eschenbach’s leaden approach has dulled even Tabea Zimmermann’s customary edge: for a more spontaneous reading, try Sir Colin Davis’s 2003 LSO Live recording.

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So much for the sound. The vision is worse, with hyperactive camerawork compounded by frenetic editing. Aerial shots of the orchestra (which might as well be playing in a barn as in the Salle Pleyel, for all the atmosphere created) are intercut with extreme close-ups of fingers on fingerboards or mouths on mouthpieces (fine for trainee manicurists or fans of French facial hair); the camera dwells as lovingly on the back of the conductor’s bald pate as on his fluttering hands; and the god of TV heaven forfend we should be shown anything as banal as a musician actually making music. Needless to say, there are no DVD extras. Mark Pappenheim