Watch Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique unfold in a performance conducted by Emmanuel Krivine

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Alpha Classics
WORKS: Symphonie fantastique; plus extras: The Concert (comments from Emmanuel Krivine); The Bassoon (presented by Antoine Pecqueur); The Timpani (presented by Aline Potin); The Violin (presented by Christophe Robert); Round table with Emmanuel Krivine, Antoine Pecqueur, Aline Potin and Christophe Robert
PERFORMER: La Chambre Philharmonique/ Emmanuel Krivine


Performing Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique on period instruments was regarded as a radical, if not downright potty idea when Roger Norrington made his pioneering 1989 recording. As soon became clear, though, this colourful, arch-Romantic fantasy is fertile territory for historically informed performance. Berlioz’s orchestral imagination is as precisely nuanced as the scenario is wildly febrile, his wide palette and expanded instrumental resources ensuring the differences of timbre and practice are readily apparent.

This DVD of period instrument ensemble La Chambre Philharmonique under Emmanuel Krivine is especially welcome not just for the performance itself, but also the accompanying films. In these, bassoonist Antoine Pecqueur, timpanist Aline Potin and violinist Christophe Robert enthusiastically demonstrate their instruments, and there is also a discussion between them and Krivine. In addition, the performance can also be viewed with a commentary by Krivine, periodically drawing attention to difficulties not apparent to the listener (unless they go awry) and, at times, being refreshingly honest.

The performance itself is notable for the translucence of the strings and rasping brass, while the woodwind are distinctive, yet well-blended. The cor anglais solo in ‘Scene aux champs’ is especially hypnotic and the E flat clarinet mockingly shrill in the dance that opens the Witches sabbath. There are times where a little more bite would be welcome, and the final two movements’ descent into nightmare could convey a more persistent sense of menace. It is a pity, also, that there is no surround option, but these are small quibbles. Any chance now of Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette?


Christopher Dingle