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on 17 August 2016
This is a very good version of the 'Symphonie Fantastique' and I cannot find anything amiss here. I particularly enjoyed the 'March to the Scaffold' and the 'Witches Sabbath' movements. Sir Colin Davis had a good grasp of this weird and wild music. A top orchestra and conductor.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 29 September 2014
This work was written in 1830, just three years after Beethoven’s death and, unsurprisingly, did not find general favour - Mendelssohn thought it ‘indifferent drivel’ while Rossini considered ‘what a good thing this isn’t music’. Looking back from almost two centuries, the revolutionary nature of the work is easy to dismiss through overfamiliarity.

Here, the Concertgebouw Orchestra, recorded in their magnificent concert hall, is conducted by Sir Colin Davis, 1927-2013. His recording, the first with the orchestra, was made in 1974 and shows Davis’s affinity for Berlioz’s music and manages to balance the Classical and Romantic elements of the music, the fiendish mixture of the tasteful, outlandish and bizarre. The conductor and orchestra are in complete accord and Davis’ judgement of tempi is consistent with a coherent shaping of the work rather than seeking to create an over-emotional interpretation. The symphony is conceived operatically with its individual movements being presented as very much more than individual tone poems. the conductor accepts Berlioz’s revolutionary approach of endowing every note to serve the demands of the plot.

Some listeners might criticise the performance as being too orthodox, although its emotional content, ranging through pastoral nostalgia, regret and terror, notably in the final movement, fully engages throughout. Personally, I empathise with the conductor’s decision to avoid excessive excitement and to rely on the score to speak for itself, as in the rustic middle movement.

The sound of the Philips CD, issues in its series, ‘The Originals’, fully matches the performance. The booklet contains an essay by David Cairns on the origins of the work and its musical journey through Reveries/A ball/In the country/March to the scaffold and Dream of a witches’ sabbath. However, the performance lasts for 55.26, niggardly given the number of works by the composer that might have been included.

My preference remains the idiomatic performance of Igor Markevitch, 1912-83, and the Lamoureux Orchestra recorded in 1961, not least for its ghoulish spite and explicit eroticism.
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This disc has been a mainstay of the catalogue since 1974 when it was recorded. It further established the conductor as a major interpreter of Berlioz’s music at that time and, even today over forty years later, it still occupies a central place on collectors’ shelves.

As a technical recording the re-mastered version at 96kHz – 24 bits delivers clarity of sound throughout plus impressively natural balances, width of field and depth of perspective. This is also a credit to the technical prowess of the orchestra and the understanding of the conductor. Playback levels are a little subdued though and the disc only achieves proper bite appropriate to the music when played back at about 3 db more gain of the volume control. This should not be a problem for most normal playback systems.

Davis is a seriously minded conductor and his later recording on the LSO ‘live’ series have reinforced that tendency noticeable on this earlier venture when he was a much younger man. Tempi throughout are generally measured within /normal’ parameters and this allows a wealth of detail to become more significant but also affects the emotional tone of the piece – more symphony and less fantastic might be a fair comment as in the following examples.

The first movement sets the scene and the tone of the piece. This is a relatively restrained composition with Berlioz reserving his big guns for the final two movements. Davis responds to this by refusing any sense of hysteria, often made apparent by other conductors with more fluctuating tempi and marked increases of speed towards the conclusion of the movement to wind up the excitement. Davis resists that sort of temptation.

The second movement maintains this steady intellectual point but offers a distinctive feature by including the optional cornet part throughout the movement. This in itself is an ear-tickling addition supplied by the composer after the first publication. Davis makes sure that it is not highlighted as a soloist and is fully integrated into the orchestral mix. However, once heard, it has the effect of making all other recordings seem sonically lacking and curiously empty of texture. This alone is a very good reason to acquire this recording.

The third movement continues in the same vein where the most obvious characteristic is its subdued nature as the oboe and cor anglais, representing the composer as the shepherd and the cor anglais, as his loved one. These two communicate over the hills only to have the timpani representing the threat of an approaching storm. All three of these are restrained to low dynamics, even the timpani rolls are subdued and the futility of the potential relationship is made clear.

The fourth movement is taken at a steadier, and completely convincing, tempo. It also includes the repeat of the opening section often ignored. The result of this steadiness is to bring out the rising excitement of the watching crowds while avoiding any suggestion of a jolly trip to the execution on the behalf of the victim, Berlioz. This is the first occasion that the composer makes sustained full use of his orchestral forces and Davis’ approach properly underlines the menace of the occasion.

That mood of menace is maintained in the fifth and final movement with a refusal to take a rapid tempo. The witches dance with gruesome glee and the deathly underpinning of the Dies Irae theme and impressive tolling of the bell, with effectively deeper tonal characteristics than the usual tubular bells, make clear once more that this is ultimately no laughing matter.

It needs to be noted that this disc represents short playing time at 55:26. Many competitors offer additional playing time and a few overtures might have been a welcome extra inducement. However, that consideration does not detract from the clear musical values of the disc as detailed above.

In summary this impressive disc is a serious contender offering collectors much to appreciate as a single or alternative choice.
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VINE VOICEon 27 December 2009
There are so many recordings of the Berlioz Fantastique that the best ones help to emphasise its unique qualities. One of these superb recordings is this version by Sir Colin Davis and the Concertgebouw Orchestra. Although some people might find it a little austere, Davis secures superb playing from the Concertgebouw Orchestra and keeps the momentum of the work going throughout its hour-long duration. This superb recording is now available in a superb 24-bit remastering that makes it sound fresher and more vivid than the previous CD releases.

This performance stands out because it maintains the steam throughout all the five movements, and Sir Colin Davis's tempi pushes the music along. After a rapturous reading of the opening Reveries section, he hurtles the Concertgebouw into the Passions, presenting the motto-theme of the symphony simply, yet sustaining the strands of the arguments. The Ball scene sounds suitably neurotic in his hands, and the Scene in the Country conveys a rapt sense of repose, with disturbing undercurrents towards the end. I know some people will complain about the over-austere character of the last two movements, but no, Sir Colin continues to sustain the momentum of the symphony. The March to the Scaffold may not be the most propulsive, but he certainly makes it sound grim, and conveys a suitably nightmarish and macabre effect. The finale, Dream of a Sabbath Night, is taken at a brisk clip and maintains the adreanaline to the end of the work, capping a scintillating performance of this groundbreaking symphony.

In short, I think this is a self-recommending performance of the Fantastique that probably faces up to the competition today. Yes I know that Sir Colin's 2000 LSO Live version presents some stiff competition, but this superb studio recording has its own merits and can hold its own.
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on 14 January 2011
As ridiculous as MacLeod's assertion may be, it speaks volumes about what this recording has always meant to me. Of the dozens of recordings I have of the major 'war-horses' per se (Beethoven, Brahms and Mahler symphonies, Rachmaninov concerti, Baroque sewing machine music), this is the ONLY one I'll ever want.

Recorded in 1974, the most readily apparent characteristic of this reading is its momentum. Davis doesn't allow the orchestra to rest for a moment, creating tension whenever and where ever necessary. So many performances of 'Fantastique' lack the simple inertia to keep this score alive and the Dutch respond to Davis magically. The first movement, difficult to convey because of the orchestration parrying between sparse and complex, is performed with such ease and color; I simply have not heard a better first movement anywhere.

The second movement waltz, 'At the Ball', is absolutely gorgeous, especially with the added cornet. Anytime I hear this waltz without the cornet part, I'm ready to call the guilty conductor and ask him why he left it out. It simply cannot go without. Again the Concertgebouw performs this movement with such life and joy it dances off the disc!

The third movement is simply amazing. The english horn solo at the beginning and end (the shepherd's pipe) of the movement is forlorn, impassioned, lonely, it is what typifies a benchmark reading for this piece. The Berlioz bass drum at the end is perfect for the coming storm. In general, the Concertgebouw bass drum for this recording is right on. The depth, the bass, the power, it's perfect and perfectly played.
One of the better moments of the CD, the March to the Scaffold, is strictly paced here but the orchestra accentuates throughout and conveys a truly sinister scene. Listen to the bassoons and how they pierce the Concertgebouw acoustic like no other. Marvelous!

The last movement is the best Witch's Sabbath I know; the creepy beginning leading up to the ensuing Dies Irae is only just the beginning. The bells used in this recording I have yet to hear anywhere since and never on any disc before. They set the stage for some of the most frenzied and expertly played Berlioz in recorded history (I'm dead serious about this). The low brass Dies Irae is striking and never lets up. The prickly dance that interrupts the Dies shows us a level of execution the woodwinds of very few orchestras ever demonstrated. The sextuplets that lead up to the main fugue are incredible and their reaffirmation at the ending really make a statement about the greatness of this offering.

This recording is unparalleled. Because I love this music so much and Davis found the perfect orchestra for this recording session, I have not yet found a reason to buy another. It IS a benchmark for this work; it is an incontestable addition to anyone's music library.
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on 5 April 2014
Colin Davis is one of my favourite conductors. I like his calm, resourcefulness with a certain warmth . I specially prefer his concerts with concertgebouw orchestra, they are always my selections.
And I also prefer the CDs published by PHILIPS.

Very Good!
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on 16 August 2015
fab
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on 4 September 2015
present
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on 5 August 2015
I bought this remastered '24' bit version cheap to replace my older 16 bit one. There does seem a small but worthwhile improvement. The performance remains what it was - excellent in most respects, just lacking the last ounce of passion which we get in the Markevitch remastered Lamoureux performance, which I also have. The latter has that rather hard edge to the strings which I find in several of the DG reissues and which make me prefer to actually listen to the Davis - at least on hi fi.
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on 21 July 2013
The Concertgebou is held highly in my esteem and they do justive to one of Berlioz's greatest works. Under the baton of Sir Colin Davis this work transforms into magical realism. Music is created along with pictures! I reccommend it for anyone who craves to go beyond the symphonic works of a purely structural and classical form. This recording is clear and crisp. The booklet is very informative!!
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