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Symphonie Fantastique/+ Box-Set
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Eine quälende Liebe, ein Mord im Opiumrausch, eine Hinrichtung und ein grotesker Hexensabbat sind die Zutaten für die Symphonie fantastique von Hector Berlioz. Wenn dieses Programm auf die kompromisslose Art des Alte-Musik-Stars Jos van Immerseel trifft, ist das Ergebnis elektrisierend. ... Jos van Immerseel liest die Partitur minutiös, was sich in differenziertem Musizieren und vor allem im Klangbild äußert. Mit nur 65 Musikern auf historischen Instrumenten legt er kompositorische Feinheiten offen, was in der langsamen Einleitung eine faszinierende Weltabgewandtheit erzeugt. ... Erst im letzten Satz lässt der Belgier die Zügel locker, lässt seine Instrumentalistenschar allerlei Effekte vom dumpfen Flüstern bis zum grellen Jauchzen produzieren. Spätestens dann entfaltet diese grandiose Einspielung ihre überwältigende Wirkung. (Stuttgarter Zeitung 23.03.2010)
berlioz, der seine musikalische 'idee fixe' (leitmotiv !) komponierte und hoffte, diese
sinfonie möge 'unabhängig von einem irgendwie dramatischen inhalt' kompositorisch-
musikalisches interesse erwecken und sinfonisches neuland bezeichnen.
die einführung des leitmotivs im bedeutenden ersten satz 'reveries-passions' zielt
eben auf kein programm (obschon insinuiert), sondern auf eine musikalische
entwicklung, und eine klangfarblich höchst differenziert verarbeitete und rhythmisch-
agogisch sehr flexible im sog aufs schafott-ende unterm choral des 'ronde du sabbat'.
einfach genialisch, zu beethovens zeit.(und der 'neutöner' strauss ist weit entfernt)
leider bleibt bei immerseel und seiner anima eterna zu wenig zu hören von solchem
potential, von leidenschaftlich imprägnierter animation, von drive und musikalischem
dafür jedoch (zu) penibel ausgehörte und exekutierte (buchstabierte) motiv-akrobatik,
die immerseel leider nicht in fluss bringt zur imagination des fantastischen ganzen.
der luftige-inspirierte atem zum fantastischen ganzen fehlt.
klangtechnisch ist diese so wie fast alle zig-zag-produktionen erste güte, schöne
klangfarben, ausgewogen-prägnante perspektive und präsenz.
musikalisch bieten markevitch, munch, stokowski-! nach wie vor wie heute boulez,
chung, minkowski und gardiner (als historisierende vertreter) einfach mehr als
immerseels altbacken-insistierende bemühungen.
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This recording of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique was recorded in May 2008 at the Concergebouw in Brugges. Taken a steady tempo and approach throughout, this version reminds me most of the classic rendition by Colin Davis Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique that many critics and collectors have rated highly for years. Like Davis, Immerseel's take on the symphony is it being a classic work of musical art without the to and fro tactics of more emotionally-charged performances. While this allows everything to be heard in proportion to its role in the score, it leaves a lot of the electricity others find in the music on the cutting room floor. Best in this regard for me is the 1950s performance by Paul Paray and Detroit Symphony, which Mercury returned to us in super audio format a few years back Symphonie Fantastique.
What I like about Immerseel's rendition is the way you can hear every period instrument in Amina Eterna. The bassoon (or it is cor anglais?) that opens the third movement Scene au Champs is delightful. The near 16 minute movement marks a turning point in this performance, changing gears from the steady and unadulterated motion of the first two movements to greater passion and heat in the march to the scaffold and the scene at the sabbath that closes the symphony. Another delight comes later, in the Roman Carnival Overture, where the opening period clarinet sound and playing is divine, as well as the string and flute music that follows.
Immerseel's notes are, as always, enlightening and fruitful. He discusses the instrumentation and playing style, saying the oboe in the Scene aux Champs plays offstage, answering the cor anglais. This is more than I know about this piece of music and I found the notes interesting and helpful. They come in four languages, as do bios of the conductor, orchestra and some of the players including concertmaster-first violinist Midori Seiler, who I suppose is not that Midori.
The packaging is rare. The CD comes in an orange sleeve in a hard box with the fat booklet. I can't recall seeing this packaging for a single disk before. This is more in keeping with multiple CD packages. The whole thing presents pretty good value for period fanciers and those that want to hear this music presented and sounding differently than they've heard before. This is a big improvement over the last period rendition of this music I heard Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique; Herminie even though it costs more than twice as much. It's worth the investment for adventurers and people looking for something new.
Another confession is that it took me a long time to warm to the period performance wave. I will probably never be a hardcore period fan but over the years I have heard many good, even great things, particularly in baroque and early classical repertoire. But being perfectly satisfied with the great, classic recordings of Beethoven symphonies (Kleiber father and son, Böhm, Monteux, Karajan, Klemperer, Fricsay) I remained unconvinced by Norrington's, Gardiner's and Harnoncourt's attempts to give us `the Beethoven of the 21st century'. Until Van Immerseel swept all these moldy prejudices of the table with his fresh and fantastically inspiring Beethoven set (here's another difference of opinion with my fellow reviewer: in those recordings I'm detecting nothing that sounds remotely like `muddy roughness').
Anyway, primed by my positive Beethoven experience and intrigued by the mixed reviews of his Fantastique I was eager to try this recording. And I must say it proved to be an utter revelation. I feel like I have discovered this piece now for the very first time. It's there in all grisly and reckless splendor. What is so exciting is that Van Immerseel really is able to convincingly anchor this work in the time when it was written, i.e. around 1830, just a few years after Beethoven's Ninth and Missa Solemnis, Schubert's Unfinished and Ninth and Weber's Freischütz. He does that of course by the whole, manically researched period apparatus that yields a distinctively lean but also astonishingly varied and attractively `earthy' sound picture. And then there is the choice of tempos. They may at times be a tad deliberate but Van Immerseel never lets the music slacken to a plod. If there is a certain rhythmic inflexibility, a certain steadiness of pulse in this performance, it didn't strike me as annoying. To the contrary, it lends the work, despite all the turmoil, a classical poise which I find very refreshing. Interpretatively the choice for a more deliberate tempo often works very well. The first pages of the score are played rather slowly (the whole movement takes more than 15 minutes) but this brings out the character of daydreaming very well. Also take the beginning of the March where the slightly distant, mournful brass and the menacing, hollow-sounding timpani conjure the image of a funeral procession. The steady, slightly slower tempo also provides more space for the great accelerando later on the movement to unfold. Without indulging in a pumped up frenzy Van Immerseel is able to resort maximum effect.
There is spine-chilling spectacle in this recording. Not from empty orchestral pyrotechnics but it from a clear vision on the symphonic architecture of the work, supported by the commendable discipline and artistry of the Anima Aeterna players and an astonishingly varied aural palette. Myriads of wonderful orchestral details keep one enthralled: the bite of the sonorous double basses in the first movement, the wonderful duet for oboe and cor anglais in the Scène aux Champs and the concluding rumble of thunder in the timpani, the peppery sound of the French bassoons in the March. The pianos in the last movement - very distinctive, appropriately sinister and a whole lot more effectful than the puny bells I heard in the Markevitch recording - is just one amongst the many felicities. The Witches Sabbat is more than manic enough to my taste. The recording is absolutely wonderful: transparant, vivacious and superbly dynamic. Although the orchestra counts only 45 desks, dynamically and it terms of sheer volume it sounds like a full-blown traditional symphony orchestra (one can wonder how `authentic' this is; but there is of course a logic in terms of performance practice: in a smaller band players are much better able to listen to one another).
All in all I found this recording to be a literally fantastic listening experience. A treat from the first bar to the last. I have rediscovered a work and indeed a composer. Hence no hesitation at all to grant 5 stars.
Right at the start the dogged, ponderous tempo doesn't bode well. In the 39 bars where Berlioz presents the idée fixe, he writes five tempo changes; Van Immerseel doesn't play a single one of them. His reading is a constant strange mixture of such stubbornness and an overemphatic literalness. When the complex climax of the first movement arrives all the notes are right in place - which we can hear very well, because the recording is beautifully transparent, much better than the muddy roughness of the sound in which his recent Beethovencycle was captured. But the tempo is so lifeless and the atmosphere so pedestrian that the result disintegrates before the listener's ears; not a trace to be found of the hysterical passion that is being painted.
The Ball scene of course has fewer pitfalls and Anima Eterna's players produce beautiful sounds, though I regret the inclusion of the cornet part that Berlioz added to the score as a not too happy afterthought, and takes away some of the lilting charm of the piece, giving it instead a militaristic edge. The third movement too doesn't fare bad at all. But the dark majesty of the March and the swirling madness of the Witches Sabbath completely elude Van Immerseel, as was to be expected after what we heard in the first movement. Even the ophicleides, which ought to rasp and bawl, sound smoothly polite. Only when at the end of the March the drums get their turn does the performance for a moment sound truly impressive.
Then it's back to perfectly 'Salonfähig' witches who celebrate a not very demonic Sabbath, tightly on the beat. Van Immerseel's academic dryness culminates in the curious decision not to use bells but two Erard piano's. In the booklet, he includes a misguided calculation that is meant to show that the bells Berlioz wanted would be too heavy and crash through every podium. It's another typical moment over over-authentic deviation, for the score leaves little doubt that the three C- and G- octaves indicated are only meant for those emergency situations where the bells had to be substituted by a piano. When there are bells, Berlioz instructs, the conductor may choose which octave to play, so only two, not six bells are needed.
Interestingly, the two Erards do produce a fittingly sinister sound; and yet, Van Immerseel's choice seems like a cheap trick to add an individual touch to his reading, and is at the same time symptomatic for his unwillingness to succumb to the spirit of the work. In that respect the lugubrious cover image is quite well chosen: the skeleton is there, but there is no flesh on it.