Fabio Luisi / Philharmonia Zurich

Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique

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This 2013 live recording of Hector Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique offers a nuanced and rather subtle interpretation of the Romantic masterpiece, which is something of a rarity in a market full of spectacular versions with startling effects. Fabio Luisi leads the Philharmonia Zürich with an ear for fine details, carefully graded dynamics, and intensely expressive phrasing, which, when taken altogether, seem to be a lost art in an age where the focus is largely on authentic instrumentation and re-creating the striking tone colors of the early 19th century. Granted, Luisi is working with a modern orchestra and his reading is mainstream, with little owed to historically informed practice, but his care in drawing out the score's inner workings makes this a valuable performance. Perhaps the best place to appreciate Luisi's attentive direction is in the least eventful movement, the Scène aux champs, where the slow tempo and the comparatively spare orchestration allow one to hear everything as written. Of course, there's plenty of excitement in the other movements, and the listener won't be disappointed with the playing in the Marche au supplice and the Songe d'une nuit du Sabbat, both of which pack a wallop. The clear stereo reproduction is quite good for the CD format, though a multichannel recording would have suited Luisi's purposes much better.

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