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Marshalling the ophicleides

Charles Munch conducts Symphonie Fantastique -
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'The Boston players revel among the cavorting witches with gleeful efficiency.'

Hector Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique - Boston SO / Charles Munch. © 1999 Victor Company of Japan

Despite the advocacy of Colin Davis and David Cairns, or the local scholarly labours that have shown the French how to produce a complete edition of one of their greatest masters, I am not an out-and-out Berliozian. If Lélio is ever programmed to follow the Symphonie Fantastique, I prefer an early bed. But the symphony itself, whatever the case for the influence of opium or its decriminalisation, is a production of staggering originality.

As Schumann wrote in 1835, when the only publication of the work was Liszt's keyboard transcription: 'Genius must bring forth in freedom'. At the end of a lengthy and deeply considered article, he hoped, nonetheless, that Berlioz might be less eccentric in future. He thought the idée fixe that wanders into all five movements had something flat about it, but accepted it as a haunting idea 'hard to get rid of'. This is how the Boston flute and violins gave it fascinating shape under Charles Munch in 1962 [listen -- track 1, 5:27-6:32].

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Copyright © 18 February 2004 Robert Anderson, London UK


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