Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique; Le carnaval romain

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

WORKS: Symphonie fantastique; Le carnaval romain
PERFORMER: Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Mariss Jansons
Unless minutes-for-pence (two fill-up overtures) is your chief criterion, Jansons’ version of Berlioz’s early masterpiece is preferable to Temirkanov’s. Neither recording will satisfy the Berliozian who wants repeats and metronomic indications observed, but the vividly characterised timbres of the Concertgebouw overcome such failings as Jansons’ exaggerated rallentandos in the first movement. The fine recorded sound is only marred by excessive bass resonance. The ‘Dies irae’ bells are a yardstick to measure effort at evoking the right sound world; the RPO orchestra uses ordinary bells, an octave too high, but the Concertgebouw has found the lower, cracked chimes suited to a witches’ sabbath.


Temirkanov needlessly exaggerates both slow and fast tempi. The opening is indicative: Temirkanov starts at one-third the indicated speed.Then after pausing on the last quaver of bar 1, he waits for a measurable silence before beginning the next bar. Even after this he fails to get bar 2 any quieter. (To differentiate pp from ppp is surely a minimum requirement for Berlioz on compact disc.) Temirkanov is seeking tragedy in the accents of adolescent daydreams; the adagio of Le corsaire similarly dies on its feet.


In the third movement the two conductors hit the same tempo (72 against Berlioz’s suggested 84), but only Jansons’ climax has the right incandescent savagery. At 18 minutes (two more than Janson’s), Temirkanov’s ‘Scène aux champs’ may be the longest ever recorded; yet here and in the grotesque finale, his tempi cannot overcome the blander RPO tone and some inapposite RCA balance which excessively hampers the woodwind. The first and last movements, and the overture, are handily sub-indexed on the EMI disc. Julian Rushton