This recording may be early LSO Live but it is vintage Colin Davis, with the LSO on top form and brings the work to life in all its crazy glory. Berlioz’s symphonic masterpiece was written in 1830, but substantially revised over the course of the next twenty-five years. As first symphonies go, it is as audacious and accomplished a masterpiece as one could possibly imagine - a unique combination of Beethovenian bombast and French grandiosity spanning five wildly-contrasting movements.
Berlioz himself alluded keenly to the ‘programme’ behind the music. We are in the suffering presence of the ‘artist’ (Berlioz himself), who fantasises about his beloved while tripping on opium. This helps prepare the audience for an extraordinary succession of episodes, each more vivid than the last and culminating in the famous march to the scaffold followed by the orgiastic nightmare of the witches’ sabbath. The work’s five movement structure is unified by a recurrent theme signifying the artist’s narcotic fuelled consciousness as he drifts between a strange variety of mental states.
The sheer eccentricity of this music, its daring juxtapositions of sounds and ideas, is realised by Sir Colin and the LSO in all its rude splendour. A distinguishing feature of this performance is the striking way in which Sir Colin evokes the presence of the narrator from the outset. The delicate, introverted nature of much of the melodic writing aches with the artist’s singular dilemma. The orchestration sounds excitingly strange and fresh, and the performance builds to a fabulous climax. This performance encapsulates the unique relationship between Sir Colin, the LSO and Berlioz.
James Mallinson, LSO Live Producer
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