LABELS: RCO Live
ALBUM TITLE: Berlioz
WORKS: Symphonie fantastique
PERFORMER: Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Daniele Gatti
CATALOGUE NO: RCO 16006 (hybrid CD/SACD)
I’ve previously enjoyed Daniele Gatti’s conducting, especially in operatic Strauss and Wagner, so his approach to Berlioz’s breakthrough work aroused real expectation. To keep his perceptions pure, he tells us in the booklet notes, Gatti avoided other interpretations but gave serious thought to the score, with its sometimes problematic instrumentation, and to its self-dramatising, theatrical character. It’s almost a wordless opera.
The resulting performance is less convincing. Gatti’s reading is poised and energetic, lucid and detailed. Its unconventional emphasis on scene-painting over sweeping gesture yields some fascinating results in the opening movements, especially the ‘Scène aux champs’. But he’s less successful with the visionary elements, vigorous but insufficiently demonic; the ‘Marche au supplice’ is somewhat heavy-handed, and the ‘Sabbat’ isn’t orgiastic enough.
The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra’s characteristic burnished sheen and the mellow restrained horns, spaciously captured by the SACD recording, is a touch too urbane for Berliozian intensity. It’s an intriguing performance, but it doesn’t really equal Robin Ticciati’s chamber-orchestra insights (on Linn), passionate, large-scale recordings from Sirs Colin Davis (LSO Live) and Thomas Beecham (Warner Classics), or period-instrument versions like Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s (on Decca). Furthermore, this disc seems rather short measure, especially as the DVD and Blu-Ray versions (also on RCO Live) include Liszt’s Orpheus and Wagner’s Tannhäuser overture, comprising a coherent programme about artistic struggle.
Michael Scott Rohan