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Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique/Roméo Et Juliette

Hector Berlioz , Charles Münch , Boston Symphony Orchestra Audio CD
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
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1. Symphonie Fantastique, Op. 14: Reveries: Passions
2. Symphonie Fantastique, Op. 14: A Ball
3. Symphonie Fantastique, Op. 14: Scene In The Country
4. Symphonie Fantastique, Op. 14: March To The Scaffold
5. Symphonie Fantastique, Op. 14: Witches' Sabbath
6. Romeo et Juliette, Op. 19: Love Scene

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It was simply a matter of time before Munch's feverish, go-for-broke 1954 recording of the Symphonie fantastique showed up on RCA's Living Stereo reissue series. The stereo that lives on this disc is primitive to be sure, with noticeable tape hiss and some weird resonances from the timpani, but for character, panache, and sheer abandon the interpretation is hard to beat. The filler, 13 beautiful minutes from Romeo et Juliette, was recorded in 1961 and shows the BSO with a good deal more polish, still glowingly expressive. --Ted Libbey

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A note on the recording April 21 2003
Format:Audio CD
This is, to my mind, one of the truly great Berlioz interpretations. This is not really disputed by earlier reviews, but there have been comments on the sound. It is worth noting that the recordings made by RCA from '54 to '56 were really experiments with no clear intent to market the results. As John Pfieffer, the producer, noted in any number of interviews, the stereo recordings were made while commercial monaural sessions were going on. In some cases, they did not even continuously monitor the stereo as it was being laid down on tape. The biggest problem, since they were using a two- or three-mic setup, was finding the ideal position to produce a good balance between direct and reverberant sound. Boston Symphony Hall is much more reverberant than Chicago Symphony Hall and caused more problems of the type noted by some listeners, but also ended up producing some of the most spectacular results once the sweet-spot was found. The Munch: Saint-Saens 3rd Symphony is a good example.
Many of these recordings were not even released in stereo at first, having to wait until this CD series was created in the mid-90's. I think this one was, though, first on stereo reel-to-reel tape and then on LP. I do recommend that anyone interested in this great performance snap up the CD while it is still available. As many know, BMG has a much lower commitment to the classics than they used to and are axing many titles as they sell out. And the great John Pfieffer and Richard Mohr are no longer around to protest.
Happy listening.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Music-making of the old (French) school Dec 10 2002
Format:Audio CD
Charles Munch managed the contradictory feat of performances that tingled with excitement without being crass, and managed clarity without being clinical about it. A very old-school conductor in that regard. This nearly half-century-old "Symphonie fantastique" is a case in point. I can't think of anyone else in my experience who has so neatly brought out the hints of delirium inherent in Berlioz's score--while maintaining Gallic unflappability. At times the whole thing threatens to come unglued, and that sense of living dangerously is probably what Berlioz intended (the neatly-organized performances of Sir Colin Davis, which for some are the standard in this symphony, are anything but "on the edge"). In this he is aided by the very French-sounding Boston Symphony, of which he was then music director, and while their technical smoothness probably didn't reach its peak under Munch's direction, you get the sense that they would go anywhere the sometimes unpredictable maestro asked. RCA's engineers were a little less helpful, producing dry, close-up (if immediate) early stereo that sounds more dated than the historic Strauss recordings they'd made with Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony earlier that year (1954). The sound improves greatly in the apt (and deliciously done) coupling from seven years later: the "Scene d'amour" from "Romeo et Juliette." It was at a performance of Shakespeare's play that Berlioz not only resolved to set the Bard's tale of "star cross'd lovers" to music one day, but also first laid eyes on the actress who became the indirect inspiration for "Symphonie fantastique" (and later, Mrs. Berlioz).
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2.0 out of 5 stars avoid this disc Sept. 15 2007
Format:Audio CD
When they taped this recording in 1955, they must have somwhow "muted" the entire percussion section, as a result the cataclysmic drum outburst in the beginning of the 4th movement cannot be heard at all, and what a letdown that is in an otherwise idiomatic performance by Munch and his BSO.
No wonder in 1962, when he decided to rerecord this symphony, he made sure that those drums are there to be HEARD, and how vivid they can be heard in this later preformance which to my mind is superior in details and atmosphere as well...terrorizing in the last movement indeed.
So avoid the 1955 disc and go for the 1962 rendition, which I understand is not yet available on the Living Stereo series yet.
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