"This recording is easily one of the very finest interpretations of "Symphonie fantastique" on disc today. It is not only gripping from begining to end, but Markevitch coaxes hues and colors out of the Berliners that are out of this world. The BPO never sounded more French than here. The suffering of the tragic hero becomes palpable, the attraction to his beautiful beloved becomes irresistible and the madness of the "Songe d'une nuit de Sabbat" inescapable. An absolutely brilliant performance. It is altogether far superior to Markevitch's later effort with the Lamoureux. Despite the mono sound, thanks to an excellent transfer, this one is a keeper."
Michael B. Richman | Portland, Maine USA | 07/31/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Recently I have been scaling back my CD purchases (I've got too many discs..., I can never find the time to listen to everything..., I've got everything I need..., etc.), but now and again a new reissue comes out that is simply too good to pass up. Such is the case with this title from DG's new "Musik...Sprache der Welt" series featuring the great conductor Igor Markevitch performing Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique.
This 1953 mono account with the Berlin Philharmonic was the conductor's first recording for Deutsche Grammophon. For years I have enjoyed Markevitch's stereo remake of the Fantastique with the Orchestre des Concerts Lamoureux (previously available in the DG Originals series but currently out-of-print), but I have always been told that the original was better. Having never been able to get my hands on it until now (this account was available in the Centenary Collection box set and as a single title in Canada that I could never locate), I always had to take the critics and connoisseurs at their word.
Well after buying this CD from Amazon I can finally say for myself that this account is truly amazing. In fact, I am hard pressed to find even a stereo rendition that is superior, though I would still continue to recommend Beecham, Davis, Munch and Paray over this title. This also has to be one of the best sounding mono CDs I have ever encountered, and I'm not sure whether to praise the original engineers or those that did the remastering, but in any case, hats off! Additionally, I should mention that this title concludes with a first rate 1957 mono account of Bizet's Jeux d'enfants, made during Markevitch's tenure with Lamoureux, a partnership that yielded many magical albums.
Finally, I would like to commend DG/Universal on another fine reissue series. While these pieces could have easily been included on Markevitch's title in another fine series -- the Original Masters limited edition box sets (see my review) -- it is wonderful to have such a historically significant recording released as a more widely available single disc. Also, selling the "Musik...Sprache der Welt" titles at mid-price when comparable classic performances from the EMI and Decca vaults sell on labels like Testament for full-price, makes this series all the more enjoyable. UNI, thanks for reminding us that there is some great music still to be reissued, and that we don't have to pay a small fortune to hear it."
"The first point to recall with febrile insistence if I may, is to state Markevitch was not only a conductor, but a composer too. And the fact he loved with passion this Symphony is more than evident. On the other hand, we should take into account the decisive fact Igor Markevitch was Russian by nationality, culturally French and Italian by taste. Thence, his tonal coloratura is so mesmerizing conducting to Tchaikovsky or Mussorgsky. He, as De Sabata, Scherchen or Van Kempne belonged to that category of "wanderer conductors". And far to be a failure, contributed perhaps to that idiosyncratic gaze and special signature respect the Symphonic works all of them directed.
This is an extraordinary version of this inspired Op. Markevitch practiced an incisive surgeon throughout this monumental composition. He initiates the First movement with somber ritards and lugubrious tonalities to emphasize the dark aspect of the unconscious and so emerge with vehemence and Dionysian rapture at the end of the movement but he never permits the emotions blossom, it's a transition between the Apollonian gaze and the untamed orgiastic enjoyment.
The well known is achieved with admirable sturdiness and crackling tension, he confers the movement solemnity without theater feature. The result cannot be more successful, that may result something inexpressive and extremely dispassionate for many people.
The Third movement has not rivals. The profound austerity arouses those dreamy ambiance, filled of memories and languid nostalgia, but articulated with masterful expressiveness. and unerring mastery.
The Fourth is loaded of a sublime austerity, incisive and penetrating, and it works out as a transition passage for the decisive Finale.
The Fifth Movement is extraordinary, surrounded by demons, witches and a lugubrious hovering that brilliantly precedes to the famous dead Mass the legendary Dies Irae, impressed with a tragic signature and lacking of that spectacular musculature; the conclusion is admirably restrained with gelid precision as a scalpel making an incision in the core of the spirit.
I insist; this approach is far to be the conventional reading, most of them tend to sway the audiences into a simple prattle between the several sections of the Orchestra; on the contrary Markevitch is totally focused in the relevant aspect of every little bar, and so he conveys us to a refreshing, honest, visceral and magisterial reading of this well known Romantic page.
This Symphony marks the vibrant debut recording of this unequaled director. Recorded on 23-29 November 1953, in Paris with the monumental sound of this prestigious Orchestra that still maintained the Furtwngler support.
Jeux d' enfants is extraordinary in vigor and pristine elegance.
Totally recommended. "
David Saemann | 07/03/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is the best played Symphonie Fantastique I've ever heard. It is even better played than the classic monaural Karajan/Philharmonia version. Of course, there are some things one gives up with Berlioz from this vintage (1953). There is no exposition repeat in the first movement, and there are no cornet parts in the second movement. Nevertheless, the clarity and beauty of tone Markevitch achieves is nearly astonishing. The interpretation reaches its peak in the final movement, the best version of the Witches' Sabbath I've ever heard. The full sonority of the performance is well captured by the monaural sound, and the balance is beautiful. The Bizet is a welcome make weight, but you really buy this disc for the Berlioz. This is Markevitch in his prime, and to the collector that should say a lot."
A Markevitch classic, in very listenable mono
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 11/14/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
Igor Markevitch, always a very original musician, was at his best in Berlioz, and along with his peerless Damnation of Faust, this 1953 Symphonie fantastique deserves to be considered a classic. The secret to a great Markevitch performance was its air of spontaneity and highly personal phrasing, combined with pithy energy and finesse. He shared many of these qualities with more 'outside' conductors like Scherchen and Mitropoulos. By rights Markevitch's career should have led to a glorious climax, given all the great recordings he made for DG in the Fifties, but a sudden hearing loss in 1961 crippled his later years, and he wound up conducting mostly second-rate ensembles.
Fortunately, for this recording he leads the Berlin Phil., sitll playing for Furtwangler, who would die the next year. They aren't a world-class virtuoso ensemble; the war had been too devastating for that, and Furtwangler disdained technical display for its own sake. Even so, not only is Markevitch more flexible and involving than in his stereo remake, the playing is far above that achived by the Lamoureux orchestra. Also, and thank God for this, we are miles away from the fussiness and caution that plague renditions from Colin Davis, Muti, Tilson Thomas, and Karajan. Markevitch's touch is natural and direct, his feeling for mood perfect. Tempos are fleet on the whole; dawdling is another problem in many recent Fantastiques. At 14+ min. the Scenes aux champs must be one of the fastest on records.
If these qualities appeal to you, then the clear and listenable mono sonics shouldn't be an obstacle to appreciating one of the most compelling readings of this much-recorded work on disc."