Essential Classical

Category: Music

Finally found and just received Berlioz, Great Orchestral Works; Philips 442 290-2; 2 disc CD, featuring Symphonie Fantastique. I numbered it among my favorites during my analog days. Recorded in 1963 with Sir Colin Davis and the London Symphony Orchestra, it shows what a major label could do before the Dynagroove process corrupted everything.
I can't abide most "audiophile recordings" that feature the St. Louis Acquarium Orchestra, or the East Leipzig Chamber Ensemble and Oompah Band. It takes a great orchestra to realise the vision of the legendary composers. But here, you have the LSO, Sir Colin (we're on a first name basis) and wonderful sonics: rock solid image, deep, deep soundstage, wonderfully live sounding brass and double reeds. And bass drum, too. You can clearly differentiate between the trumpets and cornets in the second movement. This is a really good transfer to CD.
Bonus! You get Harold In Italy and Symphonie Funebre et Triomphale which was written for the unveiling of the Arch d'Triomphe with a thousand musicians and dancers. A BIG work.
Just like my ex-wife, at fine stores everywhere.
Kitch, thanks for the suggestion, I'll go looking for it (not all versions of the Berlioz use the coronets, so that's my excuse for another version in my collection). Sir Colin and the Concertgebouw (sp., I'm sure) made a terrific Stravinsky ballet cycle on Phillips in the mid-70's; the CD transfers are very good, but if you can get the Japanese pressings on vinyl you'll be astounded at the bass and dynamics. Phillips has always been a funny label for sound quality, in my experience--some great recordings, some that sound murky and congested.
Most people, myself included, have the Phillips Davis/Concertgebouw Orch (CBO) CD from 1/1974, always near the top of the list of most reviewers. I saw the new Phillips series you are talking about, "50 years of great recording?" mid price with 24/96 remasters. This is to compete with Decca "legends" and DG "originals" EMI "great recordings of century" etc., which is good news for us to get these classic performances with enhanced sound quality.

I assume you consider the Davis/LSO of 1963 superior to Davis/CBO, I may give it a try although I already have 4-5
versions of Sym Fantastique, always open to another great performance.

BTW what would you say is your #2 choice for this work?
I also had the Concertgebouw with Davis. Thinking about my late vinyl collection, I'm going to need a drink. Anyway, I can't now compare the two, but my enthusiasm for the '63 version stems as much from the quality of the CD as from the performance. One thing in particular I've noticed on this recording is that much of the tympani seems to be at a lower level, pianissimo, than what I can recall from the Concertgebouw version; maybe you guys can help me out here. It sounds spookier somehow and I really like the effect.Also, don't neglect the Symphonie Funebre, it's a great huge band, not an orchestra, really, and a lot of fun, at least for me as a failed trombonist.
For Symphonie Fantastique I also recommend Munch/CSO (japanese EMI - CD). IMO Munch is dramatic where Sir Colin (my pal, too) is lyrical...
Kitch29, the tympani in the LSO version do sound as if they "acquiesce" (softer) with the preceding passage rather than make a statement (bold, Concertgebouw). I think it's the interpretation rather than the recording.
My favorite version of this Symphonie Fantastic is with Karajan (Deutsche Grammophon) and the powerful strings of the Berlin Philharmonic, recorded in 1975. Exellent performance and good sonics. The tympani sounds very powerful in the fourth movement making this march very dramatic with very good tempo. Have any of you ever listened to this version? What are your opinions on this one??
Also try Colin Davis and his Concertgebouw Haydn "London" symphonies. These recordings have perhaps the most realistic orchestral sound I have heard in recent memory. As a bonus, the performances are peerless.

Philips released two versions, the "Duo" series (volumes 1 and 2) with all of the "London" symphonies, and the 24/96 version with a subset of the "London" symphonies. Both versions offer excellent sound, but the 24/96 is better in many of the audiophile ways.

By the way, if you've never considered Haydn one of the great composers, this series will change your mind. Can't recommend them highly enough.
The Philips Berlioz cycle of the 70s included a very fine "Harold in Italy" with Colin Davis conducting I believe the London Symphony Orchestra, and soloist Nobuko Imai. The LP issue was 1975-76. Great sounding recording, too. The complete "Benevenuto Cellini" with Davis is also recommended.