Hector Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Hector Berlioz
ALBUM TITLE: Hector Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique
WORKS: Symphonie Fantastique; Overture to Béatrice et Bénédict
PERFORMER: Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Robin Ticciati

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Given the runaway success of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (SCO) and Robin Ticciati’s Berlioz performances in Scotland last season, it’s especially pleasant that Linn is reproducing them on SACD. This is the first and probably the most adventurous – the quintessential deliriously Romantic symphony, hard to cramp within a chamber orchestra’s delicate confines. Yet Ticciati manages this to great effect, not least because the SCO remains one of the world’s great chamber ensembles, with precision playing and clear, detailed articulation few can equal.

Ticciati exploits this to create an almost cerebral, un-hallucinatory reading, the opening ‘Daydreams’ and the ghostly ballroom saved from coolness by his lyrical fluency and warmth. What’s lost in rich textures is regained in clarity and atmosphere, like the exposed woodwind in ‘Scene in the Fields’, its underlying unease remote but clear. Then, in ‘March to the Scaffold’, he unleashes the emotional crisis, delivering Berlioz’s jagged rhythmic shifts with biting precision, all the more alarming for being controlled. The orgiastic ‘Witches’ Sabbath’ feels a little delicate at first, but gathers febrile force in the finale – so much that Béatrice et Bénédict sounds intolerably light afterwards.

I personally feel that Berlioz’s sound-world is best portrayed on ‘authentic’ instruments; but this is an almost equally refreshing approach, especially in spectacularly clear and spacious sound.

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Michael Scott Rohan