Larry VanDeSande | Mason, Michigan United States | 04/01/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Mercury continues to welcome back its old friends in three channel SACD including this version of Berlioz' Symphonie Fantastique by Paul Paray during his time with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
Recorded in then quarter-century old Detroit Cass Tech High School in 1959, I've always thought of this recording as a parable to that city's greatest decade, when it produced half the cars in the world and had a championship pro football team (see my review of the stereo version for more on this).
The three channel SACD hybrid (sorry, no surround sound on this issue) brings out a lot of details that were swallowed up in the old stereo version. It does a lot for the whole performance, especially the interplay between woodwinds and timpani in the closing section of "Scene In the Country."
Like Toscanini, Paray pushed the throttle hard when conducting and his style here led to one of the most exciting versions of the Fantastic Symphony ever recorded. The excitement in the two closing movements has hardly been equaled in any recording, new or classic.
The four encores on this recording -- Hungarian and Trojan marches and the Corsair and Roman Carnival overtures -- are performed in kindred spirit. The excitement Paray and the Detroiters build in the two overtures is breathtaking. The Detroiters stay with their high octane conductor throughout this Berlioz extravaganza.
I read a critic that complained about a certain high pitched noise in the symphony. Can't say I heard that. Having converted to 5.1 surround sound this year, I was very pleased to see this wonderful performance returned to currency. It's a hybrid you can hear it in traditional stereo too.
But upgrade your system to hear everything that's being offered and you won't look back on stereo. Either way, you're going to want to hear this recording. It's one of the most exciting performances available and now it's even better than ever."
Peter Prainito | Lombard, IL USA | 10/11/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I happen to own at least 15 recordings of Berlioz' "Symphonie Fantastique" and most are very good to excellent (the Norrington, Gardiner, and Davis versions are especially fine). However, the Paul Paray/Detroit Symphony version on Mercury Living Presence, newly released as a SACD, is simply unsurpassed. The excitement that this ensemble produces is beyond what mere words can describe. The music ignites sparks. Every movement is a joy, played with precision and passion. One truly hears and feels the unbalanced nature of the artist that Berlioz is portraying in his five movement masterpiece, which was way ahead of it's time when written. Even today it sounds modern and fresh. I especially like the second movement portraying a Ball, fourth movement portraying a March to the Scaffold, and the final movement portraying a Witches Sabbath (you'll never hear the E-Flat clarinet entry solo played any better than here.) But then again, the entire symphony is wonderful. With the Hungarian March, Trojan March, Corsair and Roman Carnival overtures included on the SACD, this is a superb value. If I could only own one recording of the Symphonie Fantastique, this would be the one. "
Not Up to a Lot of Stiff Competition
Andre Gauthier | 05/17/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Starting with technical issues there is a lot of hiss on the recording, especially with headphones. (I use Sennheiser SD600s at moderate volume.) On my main playback system, which has an extremely wide dynamic range, this recording sounds as though it had been limited. The average volume of the CD is VERY loud compared to all my other versions - even pirate mono versions. That's the engineering not the orchestra. There is a bad splice in the first movement with a note missing in a fast violin passage. (Maybe it's a tape dropout.) The bass sounds smudged as is often the case when recording at 30 ips, but then if they used that speed, why the hiss? One is supposed to cancel out the other. I have my doubts about the tape used to make this CD. Simply put, it sounds like a second generation pressing master. Its that or the original recording equipment was very noisy. It makes for a lot of slurred passages. I'm also very curious about the reverberation time that rings out at the end of the last movement. Is that Dallas high school really that live?? If so it hinders rather than helps the whole affair. If not, then who ever added the reverb added too much. And for everyone comparing this to an LP, remember, you're listening to at least a second generation copy. No LPs were ever made en masse from the original recording date tapes.
Paray's conducting is quite interesting, but certainly far from unusual. The orchestra can't totally give him what he's asking for either, maybe that's the trouble. The ability to play detache and as an ensemble at the same time is not the Detroit symphony's forte here. They do have some beautiful moments. But I'll go back as far as 1951 to Decca's Van Beinum Concertgebouw FFRR tape as a suggestion for how a super fast version of the last movement is supposed to sound - together for one thing! Markevich, with second rank orchestras, has several recordings of this piece that are far clearer and full of fire than this one, yet are just as old. Some are older. If you must have the Mercury recording, well, here it is, otherwise I'd buy several other versions well before this one. Munch on RCA from 62 is marvelous and is taken from the original tapes. If I could have only one (after much thought) it would be Gardiner and his amazing recreation of the world premiere. Yes it's a dry acoustic and the instruments are old. Still, the performance is so full of life thoughout, and this is how Berlioz must have heard it on that famous first evening.
Oh yes, another reviewer compares Paray and Toscanini in this performance. In the Italian Maestro's entire career Toscanini thought so much of the Symphonie Fantastique that he only played the 4th and 5th movements, and those quite rarely, in concert; he never recorded a note of the piece. (See Harvey Sachs "Toscanini".)"
A. Vetter | NY | 10/30/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is an excellent Symphonie Fantastique. Unusual, unexpected, and refreshing. This may not be the most overwhelming recording. Yet, it is completely fresh and enjoyable. Brasses play very well. Woodwinds are great. As for Paray, I really enjoy the unnusual touches of this performance. Compared to many, this is a real bargain."
One of the best
Samuel D. Thomas | Charleston, SC | 11/02/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The Berlioz "Symphonie Fantastique" is one of my favorite pieces. The Chesky recording is excellent and now, Mercury has reworked this very excellent performance. I am very pleased to add this performance to my collection."