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CD Review

Symphonie Fantastique

San Diego Symphony Orchestra/Yoav Talmi
Naxos 53597
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New Philharmonia Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
BBC Legends BBCL4018 (Concert of 18 June 1968)
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I experienced the difference between analysis and synthesis. Listening to the Naxos release I made notes, thought about the performance and its strengths. I noted how much better it was than my other digital recording (Chung on DG). Then I put on the Stokowski recording. The next thing I realized was that I wasn't taking notes; I was simply enjoying the music to the max.

Now, don't get me wrong, this performance with the San Diego Symphony is very, very good. I have enjoyed it immensely over several nights. There is feeling here, and since feeling is first, whoever cares about the syntax of things will never wholly kiss you (apologies to ee cummings) This is the problem with Chung's recording from a few years back. He seems to be parsing the symphony. There are nice details, but I feel nothing. Talmi, on the other hand, gets me involved right away. The horn solo at the beginning is almost Brucknerian. The strings sing and the woodwinds, as usual for Naxos, are just beautiful. The bells in the finale disappoint slightly because you have to stretch to hear them.

Then there is Stokowski. I wish this performance, a rehearsal for his commercial recording I assume, had been like the one released on London a several years ago. That performance may sound better, but it is limp by comparison. This live recording may not have the benefit of the Phase 4 sound, but it still sounds very good. The performance is the excellent to Talmi's very good. It helps that Stokowski has a larger orchestra. Berlioz's music needs a large orchestra. The bells in the final movement are much more forward and eerie. Stokowski uses more portamento but I think that is all for the good in this music. Of course there is also the Stokowski Sound, that rich carpet of bass line behind the orchestra.

Now, Gramophone rates the Colin Davis recording as the best available. Bull. I have heard it and it is too classical. Berlioz was not a classical composer and he knew it. His music should be full of passion and feeling. Davis has no soul.

So, in a nutshell that is that. I recommend the Naxos recording and not only because of price. This same group released a "Harold in Italy" a few years back and I was very impressed with that recording, too. I understood that the orchestra disbanded after making that recording and this one. I hope they were able to get it together because they are very good.

Copyright © 2002, Robert Stumpf II