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on 24 May 2015
Excellent!
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on 3 May 2014
Wonderful - my favourite piece of music. As a classical music lover it is good to know of an outlet whereby I can get great music thanks
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on 8 April 2017
I have very much enjoyed these remastered Living Stereo recordings by Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. This recording of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, which they made in 1954, is simply a classic and the date it was made shouldn't put anyone off listening to it in its remastered sound.

The glorious Boston strings are rich and dazzle throughout the first three movements with excellent woodwind playing as well. I did find the brass a bit on the mellow side during the March to the Scaffold and Dream of the Witches' Sabbath compared to the power of say the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. However I have noticed on other Munch/BSO recordings, particularly with other French composers like Debussy and Ravel, that Munch seems to prefer restrained brass. So I haven't let myself be put off and am still happy to award it 5 stars.

Also included is Berlioz's Romeo and Juliette (Part 2-Love Scene) and the Boston strings are again very striking in how they shape this dramatic work.
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This disc, compiled from recordings made as long ago as 1954 and 1961, has been very successfully remastered. As a result the tonal spectrum of the orchestra has been improved and the depth of field has been deepened. This Fantastic lives up to its name in a way that Berlioz did not have in mind.

The Symphony itself is from a two track recording while the Romeo recording is from a three track original. This means that the Romeo scene can be heard through the front three speakers in surround mode. The Symphony will be heard via the front left and right speakers in surround mode. There is no doubt about the superiority of the surround mode for both works over traditional CD playback where that facility is available. This can easily be tested by playing the two track symphony via the stereo only version and the two track surround version. The latter has far more depth, space and sense of reality.

As far as interpretations go, this is a typical Munch disc with plenty of emotional fire and drive. That is very suitable for most of this symphony bearing in mind the drug induced fantasies evoked and portrayed via the music. Munch's speeds are all on the sprightly side with little room for introspective considerations. This is a valid viewpoint and there is no doubting the excitement generated in this way, particularly with the final witches' Sabbath movement.

However, some listeners may feel that this approach may be questioned with the rapid march to the scaffold which comes over as rather a jolly jaunt to rather a jolly occasion. This seems essentially unlikely. Boulez, on the other hand, once produced a performance so slow it sounded as if it was a slowed down rehearsal practice. That too seemed doubtful. There are many versions taking a safer and surer mid-course as regards a tempo for this particular movement. This will be a matter of personal preference.

The Romeo excerpt is well done with no provisos and the further advantage of a three track recording and the later date is a further advantage. This is not to undermine the very real merits of the symphony recording which is truly remarkable for 1954.

I would suggest that this disc will give admirers of Munch great cause for celebration. The same may be said of anyone interested in upgrading an earlier mastering to this new version. Other potential purchasers may wish to consider the issue over the March to the Scaffold tempo and decide of it should be jolly, and even exciting in a jolly way, or altogether more restrained with a degree of fear or trepidation made clear.

In conclusion this disc is a winner for at least two categories of purchasers as above and a possible consideration for others. A personal choice at that point.
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This is a famous recording. Munch takes all sorts of liberties with tempi, yet no-one - Bernstein included - has managed to give this extraordinary musical unity without sacrificing excitement. Given that it represents one of the most frenetic, febrile expressions of hallucinogenic, drug-induced hyper-sensitivity that the Romantic Movement affords, it would seem prosaic in the extreme to demur at Munch's agogic freedom, especially when he conjures such ravishing sounds from the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He gives this pulsating music an entirely absorbing sense of purpose, yet nothing seems calculated; even the most extreme rubato or accelerando serves the underlying architectural conception.

The vividness of the sound also reveals that of accelerating vehicles in the background and every creak of the floor. While the 1954 version made with the same forces on stereo reel-to-reel tape is in some ways even more daring and propulsive, on balance this 1962 stereo re-make is marginally preferable both in terms of sound and interpretation, although I would not go to the stake defending either against the other.

The opening of the first movement is weighty, soulful and impassioned before launching into the yearning, headlong passion over Berlioz's own "Immortal Beloved". Here, more than anywhere else, Munch plays fast and loose with the beat but it works. In the second movement, "Un bal", the waltz time is a little more measured than in the 1954 recording but if anything even more charged with erotic intensity. The "Scène au champs" avoids the longueurs which lesser conductors engender, and the exquisite tuning of the Boston strings makes magic as that glorious bucolic theme, so reminiscent of Beethoven's "Pastoral", blooms expansively. In contrast to the freedom he employs elsewhere, Munch at first holds the "Marche au supplice" to a very steady beat, before gradually ratcheting up the tempo and tension and building ominously to a superb decapitation. The "Songe d'une nuit de sabbat" again pulses steadily and inexorably before the chimes usher in the weird, pounding tread of the Dies Irae and the syncopated frenzy of the demonic dance. This is one of the great Berlioz recordings, beyond doubt.
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on 11 July 2017
Classic recording from Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony Orchestra .
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VINE VOICEon 9 July 2009
Charles Munch's performance of Berlioz's Fantastic Symphony is a classic of the gramophone: one of the very first stereo recordings made by RCA at a time when they did not have the technology to manufacture records in stereo. It was recorded in three tracks in November 1954 and was briefly available on reel to reel tape a year or so later but did not become available as a stereo recording until 1958. The present remastering is VERY up-front (you can almost hear the rosin on the strings) but it is detailed, rich and at a high level whilst also having a good sense of space.

Munch's view of the work is full of temperament. The feeling of the agonies of young love descending into drug-induced madness is caught better that anyone else I can think of. The instability of the first movement replicates the passions and reveries of the title; the ball scene whirls past at just over 6 minutes (no repeats, of course, as was common in the 1950's) with very telling harps; the country scene is one of the fastest on record and very sinister but then is followed by a steady and menacing March to the Scaffold. The Dream of the Witches' Sabbath is frantic and frenetic - quite wild. Nobody does this like Munch.

So, although there is no obligato cornet part in the Ball Scene and although the repeats are thin on the ground in all movements, this is a very special recording, with a vibrancy unsurpassed by any other. At current asking price from Amazon lovers of this hugely romantic and strange work should snap up one of the great interpretations of the century.
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on 4 December 2002
I was privileged to be in the audience when this performance was recorded, and was blown away by Davis' interpretation and the extraordinary commitment of a world class orchestra on top form. I ordered this CD with some trepidation, because I wondered whether a recording would be able to capture the atmosphere of the live performance, but I am not disappointed.
This recording is issued under the LSO's own label, which is why it's inexpensive. But be assured that you won't find a better performance at any price.
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on 2 April 2000
this recording of symphony fantastique outshines all rivals (including Sir Colin's own later recording). The balance is superb, the recording full and atmospheric but what makes this one of the classic CDs is the performance which tightens like a spring coil towards a dramatic and memorable climax. This is one of the MUST LISTEN TOs in my collection.
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on 18 March 2017
Whatever the hype, this is, in terms of acceptable sound quality, quite off the mark and very much is of its vintage 1954. Despite good Left and Right stereo imaging, which must have wowed listeners and reviewers on its first release on tape, there is little depth in the recording.

The strings have brushed up quite well, but the quality of the other instruments, especially the woodwinds, is very poor - and given that this music is all about Berlioz's skill and innovations as an orchestrator and "painter" of musical scenes - amounts to a big minus against this as part of a Berlioz or orchestral collection.

Followers of the RCA Living Stereo line, Munch, or this orchestra or very early stereo recordings will want this regardless.

But for everybody else and those looking for a real golden age stereo recording would be better off spending their cash on...

Goossens/LSO Everest/Vanguard transferred via 20 BIT SBM from the original 35mm masters (a DVD-Audio+CD 2 disc package with three channel reproduction of the original masters included as an option as well as 2 channel stereo in HD is available from Classic Records) 1960. Note the tremendous bandwith and clarity from the 35mm medium with a very satisfying thump on the lowest notes.

Paray/Detroit SO Mercury Living Presence - a scintillating performance vividly captured by Robert Fine utilizing the same basic three channel technique and half inch magnetic tape decks as RCA, but to better effect, resulting in a demonstration recording. This is a well-filled Berlioz disc with some of his best music. 1959 and boy Paray seems to be conducting with turbo assistance! Is there a more effectively played or recorded "A Ball" (Waltz, Second Mvt.) on record? As a performance this is one of the best.

Davis/LSO Philips The performance is somewhat muted and cool, perhaps "careful", but the soundstage and stylish playing is wonderfully captured by the Philips team with all parts of the orchestra clearly presented. The low strings are wonderful. We are still fully in the golden age in 1965 though transistors are beginning to raise their ugly head in the recording chain.

Any of the above represent a better listening experience and offer more musical excitement than this past-its-sell-by-date RCA offering dressed up like old wine in a new bottle.
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