Charles Munch managed the contradictory feat of performances that tingled with excitement without being crass, and managed clarity without being clinical about it. A very old-school conductor in that regard. This nearly half-century-old "Symphonie fantastique" is a case in point. I can't think of anyone else in my experience who has so neatly brought out the hints of delirium inherent in Berlioz's score--while maintaining Gallic unflappability. At times the whole thing threatens to come unglued, and that sense of living dangerously is probably what Berlioz intended (the neatly-organized performances of Sir Colin Davis, which for some are the standard in this symphony, are anything but "on the edge"). In this he is aided by the very French-sounding Boston Symphony, of which he was then music director, and while their technical smoothness probably didn't reach its peak under Munch's direction, you get the sense that they would go anywhere the sometimes unpredictable maestro asked. RCA's engineers were a little less helpful, producing dry, close-up (if immediate) early stereo that sounds more dated than the historic Strauss recordings they'd made with Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony earlier that year (1954). The sound improves greatly in the apt (and deliciously done) coupling from seven years later: the "Scene d'amour" from "Romeo et Juliette." It was at a performance of Shakespeare's play that Berlioz not only resolved to set the Bard's tale of "star cross'd lovers" to music one day, but also first laid eyes on the actress who became the indirect inspiration for "Symphonie fantastique" (and later, Mrs. Berlioz).