Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique; Tristia

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Berlioz
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Symphonie fantastique; Tristia
PERFORMER: Cleveland Orchestra & Chorus/Pierre Boulez
CATALOGUE NO: 453 432-2
Boulez relishes the turning points of musical history. He has commented without favour on Berlioz’s technique, but conducts half a dozen of his works; this is his second (and better) recording of the Fantastique. Emphasis on the significance of colour, and on this symphony as a pointer to the future rather than a meditation on lost youth, leads him to an interpretation at times brazenly modernistic. This works well in a clinical way for the adventurous harmonies and textures of the outer movements, and makes for a particularly nasty ‘March to the Scaffold’. The climax of the great Adagio is exciting, the aftermath moving, but the rhythms earlier in this movement are curiously wayward. Boulez is least at home in the waltz, missing its tender grace and for once neglecting dynamic nuance. Still, it is nice to hear the harps so clearly.

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As a filler, Tristia is well chosen. Sung accurately but in anglophone French, the ‘Religious Meditation’ and ‘Death of Ophelia’ make their mark; the Hamlet march is a little slow, and its percussion and chorus decidedly not off-stage as required. The words of Tristia are included, but not the symphony’s programme. Julian Rushton