The best performance of the Symphonie Fantastique
M. Mclain | VA | 11/17/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"With Berlioz making a huge hit this last year, invariably the question arises over the best recording of the Symphonie Fantastique, Berlioz's first great work and certainly his most famous. The greatest challenges to any conductor with this work is contending with the tremendous variety of sound and dynamics--the temptation being either to reduce the effects to emphasize the extraordinary structure, or explode into a chaotic but colorful mess of sound. Of the many recordings I've listened to of this work (including Colin Davis, Karajan, and Ozawa) this one is the greatest. Stokowski tends to be looked at as a mere entertainer, not a true intellectual artist capable of tremendous musical endeavors--hopefully this recording will shatter those ridiculous ideas (although the very interesting, and even bizarre interview at the end of the disc is a great indicator of how the public has come to understand Stokowski as an eccentric--it certainly ranks with Glenn Gould as one of the more colorful interviews). From beginning to end the recording is filled with intensity and passion--two absolutely vital qualities to the performance of the music. The first three movements are severally tempered, and only Stokowski manages to make that emotional compression carry the inherent weight that comes from constricting such vital material. With the execution march the music explodes, and finds the wonderfully dark climax with the Dies Irae in the Witch's Sabbath--notice how he varies the tempo at the end, and yet it works absolutely perfectly. I cannot emphasize enough how powerful of a recording this is--and the BBC group has done a wonderful job with the quality of sound. Certainly one of the finest recordings availible."