I must say that I have never been all that greatly impressed with Davis as a Berlioz conductor; and my impression is that the American critical response over the years has been considerably less exultant than the British press. This is not detracting from the indubitable value of Davis' pioneering recordings, especially the operas, which is acknowledged all round.
But with the staples of the repertoire, it would (in my opinion) foster an untoward slant on the matter to extol Davis at the expense of e.g. such congenial and persuasive interpreters as Munch, Beecham and especially Markevitch. In the Symphonie Fantastique, above all, there is so much competition that one can hardly claim of Davis' London Symphony recording (part of the complete Philips survey) that it excels the others, not even in terms of sound; and this is not mentionnig Karajan and Bernstein, who both recorded the work twice and deliver arguably superior refinement and virtuosity on one hand, passion and exuberant fantasy on the other.
But the recording under scrutiny is in any case not the celebrated London incarnation of Davis' "Fantastique". It was made at Amsterdam, with the Concertgebouworkest - undoubtedly one of the world's great orchestras. Yet looking back over Davis' recordings with this band, I cannot help feeling that the quality of his work there is highly variable, not a patch on what he achieved with other continental orchestras such as the Bavarian Radio Orchestra or the Dresden Staatskapelle. For example, while in Amsterdam he recorded the three great Dvorak symphonies plus Cello Concerto (with Schiff), none of which can belong to the higher echelons of outstanding recordings. Some Stravinsky and Haydn also came out as pretty much standard routine. And I'm afraid the same has to be said of the present recording.
When you consider the excitement that is asking to be unchained in a performance of the "Fantastique", the main impression conveyed by this recording is one of technical care and a strange sense of clinical exactitude that seems at the opposite end of what the work demands. Half in jest, it could be said that a conductor and orchestra can get away with a fistful of wrong notes if the performance makes you leap into the air with enthusiasm. They cannot get away with playing all the notes and nothing else! But this is precisely what happens here. A feeling of deja-vu and tiredness lies like a wet blanket over the proceedings; not even the infamous March to the Scaffold can redeem matters, even though there are splendid noises here. But - done so much better and more thrillingly by the abovenamed conductors.
When this is the overall impression, and the end of the work leaves you as listener wondering what the fuss was all about, there is no point in marking details. They're all there, present and accounted for; and every now and then there is a little flash of brilliance. But with this work, the brilliance must be sustained throughout. This recording fails on that account; it will do at best after a long tiring day at work, when an hour of mild stimulation is all you wish for. Otherwise (depending on your predilection) go for one of the five named above (actually seven). They won't disappoint you.