Berlioz' 'Symphonie Fantastique' is a very important piece of music. In his own commentary on the piece, he comments on his use of a repeating melody, an idée fixe (fixed idea). This symphony is in many ways a symphonic poem, a new sort of idea - even the structure of the symphony, being in five movements, is an innovation. This is a symphony that tells a story - one in which a gifted artist succumbs to drugs in despair over love; many saw Berlioz' own life being presented here, and he eventually dropped the narrative designations, allowing the movement headings to stand as sufficient enlightenment to the listener.
1. Rêveries - Passions (Passions)
2. Un bal (A Ball)
3. Scène aux champs (Scene in the Country)
4. Marche au supplice (March to the Scaffold)
5. Songe d'une nuit du Sabbat (Dream of a Sabbath Night)
The first movement opens with a light piece that quickly becomes the idée fixe, the recurring melody. The second movement takes a simple waltz theme that goes up and down in many ways - this is perhaps meant to symbolise the isolation of a lovestruck person at the ball. The third movement has melodies drawn in horn and oboe, with rustic and romantic influences evident here. The fourth movement is much more dramatic, with horns and rushes that are anything but pastoral, and fifth movement draws on a piece from traditional requiems, the Dies Irae, together with ideas reminiscent of church bells and a graveyard.
The second major piece here, Tristia, which is a trio of pieces written at different times, later collected as a group for chorus and orchestra. The first, the Méditation religieuse was composed in Rome during 1831. It is a setting for six-part chorus and small orchestra based on a poem by Thomas Moore. It uses horn and strings at the end to good effect. The second and third pieces come from Berlioz' work with Hamlet; La mort d'Ophélie and the Marche funèbre for the final scene of Hamlet both have interesting development and intonations.
The performances by the Cleveland Orchestra and Chorus, under the direction of Pierre Boulez, with chorus master Gareth Morrell, are absolutely flawless. There is a perfect energy and perfect clarity of pieces here. The tempo is grand and appropriate for each piece, and the power particularly in the end of the Symphonie Fantasique reminded me of the similar power at the end of Berlioz' 'Te Deum'.
This is a disc every music lover should have.
le 13 juillet 2005
Tout en nuances, cette interprétation de l'oeuvre la plus connue de Berlioz est pour l'instant ma préférée: le son est excellent, très clair et précis, et énergique lorsque ça s'impose. De surcroît M.Boulez a eu la bonne idée de l'agrémenter de trois petites petites pièces symphoniques avec choeur qui gagnent à être découvertes _ saluons cette heureuse initiative!