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  PentaTone Classics -
  PTC 5186 184
  Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique - Davis
  Hector Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique Op. 14

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam
Sir Colin Davis (conductor)
Track listing:
  Classical - Orchestral
Recording type:
Recording info:

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Reviews: 4 show all
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Site review by Polly Nomial November 10, 2007
Performance:   Sonics:  
This must count as one of the best RQR recordings (from a musical standpoint) yet issued and is one of the most amazing transformations of the sonic signature of the Concertgebouw Orchestra that I have heard to date.

At no point, if this were played as part of a blind listening test, could one possibly identify that the orchestra was not French (except for such rock solid tuning for the period!) One might well suppose that the orchestra was recorded in the Concertgebouw but not that it was the Concertgebouw Orchestra itself in front of the microphones such is the conjuring trick that Colin Davis pulled off with this extraordinary score. The sound of the orchestra is ideal for the piece - graceful yet never thin, powerful but not too weighty and, above all, relishing every detail in the score (easily audible with the violins left and right of the podium). This should not be surprising given that they have at the helm one of, if not the greatest, conductor of Berlioz's music that has lived since recordings have been made and Colin Davis does not disappoint.

The mysterious opening of the first movement soon gives way to ardent passion before the slumber returns to restore balm to the senses. The waltz is a true dance and I had trouble stopping my feet from tapping along in time to the music! Where many come to grief in this epic is the middle movement - a performance can be viscerally exciting in the faster movements but if one's mind drifts in the pastoral scenes then all is lost for it becomes a dreadfully boring 15+ minutes otherwise. This is not the case here; one can almost feel the rustle of the wind in ones hair and see the approaching storm clouds. Perhaps most brilliantly of all, the cor anglais really does manage to sound as though it is echoing a song in from another valley - tribute indeed to all concerned. Needless to say, the electricity is present in both the March and the Witches Sabbath where the Concertgebouw manage to outdo all "period" performances I have heard in terms of the shock of the timbres and effects that Berlioz deploys - absolutely gripping right to the last swish of the strings bows that round out the sound of the final brass chord.

The sound is exceptional in its sensitivity; few manage to capture so many details whilst remaining faithful to the timbre of instruments. Perhaps it should be no surprise that the original engineer, Vittorio Negri, is an accomplished musician himself and so is more attuned to such aspects than others of his era. The tapes have lasted well and Pentatone have clearly lavished great care on presenting them as they were surely meant to be heard, although one occasionally wonders whether a centre channel in the original recording would have benefited the sometimes dense textures even more. [Those familiar with the series will of course be aware that Pentatone faithfully reproduce the quadrophonic recordings as intended, i.e. no centre channel.]

I can only hope that more Berlioz from this conductor can make its way onto SACD.

Copyright © 2007 John Broggio and

Review by nickc March 26, 2008 (10 of 12 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
Like me I suppose a lot of readers had this on CD and bought it to see how much improvement there was in the master tapes. Well there is an improvement, but unfortunately I can't summon as much enthusiasm for the sound as the other reviewers.

This was recorded in 1974 and it would be idle to pretend it sounds anywhere as good as a new RCO Live disc, like the Mahler 1st. or 4th. Firstly I agree with Polly that it should have been mixed to 5.0, not left as 4.0 - we are left with a slight hole in the middle. Before anyone shouts me down by saying my main L/R probably aren't in perfect alignment, some of the 4.0 recordings I have are OK - I just prefer the full 3 channels being utilised as it seems to spread the sound so much more easily.

My main gripe is the thinness of the strings. Bass is reasonable and woodwinds are fine, but the famed strings of the Concertgebouw just sound really thin, and a lot smaller scale than they do with modern recordings. We are also further back than I like with a lot of reflections coming from the rears. This seems to be a litany of complaints but we have been spoilt with new recordings and that is how it sounds to me.

The performance is of course one of the most famous and has always been well regarded. Should you buy it? I would still give a qualified yes, but, of course, don't expect it to sound as good as a modern recording.

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Review by madisonears October 25, 2007 (9 of 10 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
This has long been a favorite performance of me and many critics. Davis is certainly in touch with the spirit of Berlioz, and, with this piece, he wrings every bit of emotion out of it, from dark humor to sheer terror and despair. Every element of an ideal performance seems to be in place: perfect accents, faultless tempi, and gorgeous playing by the orchestra. This 30+ year old recording has lost none of its glamour, with effective low end, a wonderful bloom to the midrange, and atmospheric, if not ideally transparent, highs. I can't imagine anyone not liking this performance, except Hurwitz at Classics Today, who seems bent on being merely contrary to the gushing Penguin recommendation.

Compared to Jarvi, this performance has more inner tension, more excitement, and is more expressive without resorting to extreme tempi. The waltz is so lilting and lovely in a warped kind of way that you want to grab a partner and spin her around the room. Only a few minutes later, you'd rather kill her and see her burning in hell. The Telarc recording is superior in transparency and frequency extremes, but this older recording is warmer, somehow more full and engaging. This is definitely a classic worthy of remastering and the SACD treatment. The sonics are better than either Munch on RCA or Paray on MLP.

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Works: 1  

Hector Berlioz - Symphonie fantastique, H 48