This month I was listening to a couple of composers whose work seems to exist outside of their time and place.
Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) seems startlingly ahead of his time. While he never reached the heights of Haydn, Mozart, or Beethoven, his work seems now to have signaled a seismic shift in music comparable to those giants. He wrote his ‘Symphonie fantastique: Épisode de la vie d’un artiste … en cinq parties’ (Fantastical Symphony: An Episode in the Life of an Artist, in Five Parts) in 1830. Leonard Bernstein, in somewhat dated vernacular, says:
“Berlioz tells it like it is. You take a trip, you wind up screaming at your own funeral.”
I think some conductors carry this concept to excess, while others are too tame. I was first exposed to the Symphonie Fantastique in a recording that was produced and marketed as a hi-fi spectacular, and the result wasn’t very good. Later on, Charles Munch’s recording made me a believer.
Now Daniele Gatti leads the Royal Concertgebouw in an excellent performance which certainly makes the March to the Scaffold and the Witches’ Sabbath frightening, but still reminds us that the work is from the Early Romantic period. I really like Gatti’s approach! And the recording is excellent– it’s especially convincing in multi-channel. Excellent!
NativeDSD has two other differing but quite fine performances of the Symphonie Fantastique you should sample. Personally, I find the Pittsburgh very exciting and recorded beautifully. If you want lots of pizzazz, it works very well.
The LSO with Gergiev certainly show off Gergiev’s usual abilities. It would be a fine addition to anyone’s library. I like the Gatti best, but you should listen to the samples.
Arvo Part (b 1935) is an Estonian composer who works in a minimalist style inspired in part by Gregorian Chant. His religious choral music is modern, yet it would not sound out of place in a cathedral 500 years ago. It is deeply moving, meditative, relaxing, and thought provoking all at once. Paul Hilliard leads the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir in a set of Part’s shorter pieces– exquisitely performed and recorded. This album, Arvo Part- Da Pacem is absolutely delightful, and very highly recommended!
Speaking of Haydn, Carlos Kalmar conducts the Oregon Symphony in Haydn’s Symphonies, No 53 (The Imperial), No 64 (Tempora Mutantur), and No 96 (The Miracle) in a truly delightful album. Some of us have been successfully indoctrinated by the original instruments gang to think that only they can make Haydn sound the way he should. Well— Here’s proof otherwise. Kalmar and his band bring out everything that is delightful and surprising about Haydn’s music. This set has been extraordinarily well reviewed in a bunch of places, so I’ll just say— If you love Haydn, you will love this album. If you don’t love Haydn, you may very well learn to love him with this album.
Finally, let me recommend you check out an album from the excellent Yarlung Records folks— Nigel Armstrong demonstrates his wonderful virtuosity with the violin in Sonatas by Bartok and Bach, and a fabulous rendition of Kongold’s Violin Concerto—backed by the world class student orchestra in Los Angeles, the Colburn Orchestra conducted by Sir Neville Mariner! I’ve got a number of recordings of the Korngold, but none catch the flavors of it any better than this one. And Bob Yarlung knows how to record stuff!