Jean-François Heisser / Marie-Josèphe Jude

Hector Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique

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Introducing the Stradivari series on Harmonia Mundi, which is planned to highlight rare musical instruments housed in the collection of the Philharmonie de Paris’ Musée de la musique, Jean-François Heisser and Marie-Josèphe Jude perform Hector Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique in Heisser's own transcription, an exciting arrangement that presents every detail of the score with brilliant color, clarity, and style. Using a 1928 Pleyel vis-à-vis piano, which is essentially two pianos combined in one squarish case, Heisser and Jude play with a close coordination and dynamic balance that imitates as nearly as possible the feeling of an orchestral performance. Even more remarkable are the vis-à-vis piano's tone colors that Heisser and Jude exploit, which are carefully shaded and doubled where necessary to suggest the original sonorities and textures of Berlioz's score. Some of the timbres are merely hinted at, since listeners who know the symphony well will fill in the sonic gaps anyway, but it's evident from their refined touch, calculated attacks, and minimal pedaling that Heisser and Jude made a serious attempt to orchestrate at the keyboard. Perhaps the only misfire is found in the dissonant bell effects in Songe d'une nuit du sabbat, which are surprisingly unlike the intended tolling of church bells and unnecessarily jarring. While this won't be everyone's preferred way to hear Symphonie fantastique, it is an excellent way to show off this unusual instrument, which deserves to be heard in a flamboyant showcase such as this one.

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