WORKS: Symphonie fantastique; La marseillaise (arr. Berlioz)
PERFORMER: Plácido Domingo (tenor); Chicago SO & Chorus/Daniel Barenboim
CATALOGUE NO: 4509-98800-2 DDD
A picture of Chicago on the front cover of this disc hardly fits the mood and, although Barenboim is generally a reliable Berlioz conductor, he and the Chicago Symphony may be guilty, in this live performance, of playing to the gallery (mercifully no applause is recorded).
A few rough touches of ensemble matter little, but the broadly conceived performance tends to exaggerate Berlioz’s invitations to slow down and accelerate (particularly in the over-excited second movement). Failure to hold back the fugue of the ‘Ronde du Sabbat’ deprives it of its ironic weight. Otherwise tempi are reasonable, if on the slow side in the introduction.
The tone of the winds is hardly ideal, and they make a stodgy quail-call in the third movement (but the solos are nicely handled). The bells of the finale are dreadful, tinny and at least an octave above the highest pitch Berlioz wanted; by contrast, the brass bring to mind rather full-bellied witches.
Domingo fans get a few minutes of glory in the Marseillaise, a pièce d’occasion which is hardly an appropriate filler (and is placed first on the disc). Its words are in the booklet, but (as I have had to complain before) not the programme of the symphony. Julian Rushton