Symphonie fantastique, Op.14
Francesca da Rimini, Op.32
Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra
Berlioz recorded in the Royal Albert Hall, London on 9 September 1971; Tchaikovsky on 9 September 1960 in the Usher Hall, Edinburgh
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: June 2005
CD No: BBC LEGENDS
Duration: 76 minutes
This apt coupling of two pieces of high emotional drama is well worth seeking out. Here is a great orchestra, one so closely associated with Evgeny Mravinsky, working with an individual, unpredictable conductor who was and is capable of producing remarkable results on the night.
The Tchaikovsky, second on this CD, was shortly after this Edinburgh Festival performance recorded by Deutsche Grammophon: one of the greatest accounts of Francesca da Rimini ever set down – and in stereo. But this live one isn’t disadvantaged by mono sound, and the swirling intensity of an orchestra at the height of its powers is palpable – and in music the Leningrad Philharmonic knew so well under Mravinsky’s guidance. Rozhdestvensky is his own man, though, and what must have been a heady atmosphere in the Usher Hall is palpably conveyed – the tempestuous fortissimos have plenty of impact. Indeed, the vibrant Leningrad timbres and hell-for-leather virtuosity is thrilling; one can sense the audience pinned back in its seats. Yet it’s the arching dynamics and the rich phrasing of the strings that stick most in the mind, not least before and during the clarinet-led middle section, which grows inexorably to its climax. It’s interesting to hear Rozhdestvensky’s flexibility occasionally catching this meticulously trained orchestra out, which adds tension. This vital account concludes with an almighty paean of irrevocable despair.
The account of the Berlioz is malleable and very much focused on the fantasy of the music (neither the first nor ‘March to the Scaffold’ movements have their repeats observed) and is never less than an engrossing experience. However, it’s the tender, poetic account of the ‘Scène aux champs’ central movement that is the highlight, really quite special, and if the orchestra’s brass can be a tad overwhelming in places, the very specific sounds adds the right sort of terror to the ‘Scaffold’ movement. In the finale (‘Witches’ Sabbath’), the bells are very weak; something blacker and more doom-laden is needed, and this movement is a tad pedestrian too, although it does gather suspense as it goes along. Ultimately, an interesting performance.
First class transfers by Tony Faulkner who attempts no false bolstering of the sound and, more importantly, allows textures to be clean and natural.