François-Xavier Roth / Les Siècles

Hector Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique [2019]

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The large collection of antique instruments at Les Siècles' command makes its recordings more than just speculative period exercises, but something approaching musical time travel. Led since 2003 by its founder, François-Xavier Roth, this singular French orchestra has given thrilling historically-informed recreations of the repertoire of the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries on vintage instruments that were available to the musicians of the time, crafted by hand, and possessing the unique sonorities and tunings of different regions. For this 2019 album from Harmonia Mundi, Roth and his musicians play Hector Berlioz's hallucinatory Symphonie fantastique and the dramatic overture Les Francs-Juges with marvelous orchestral colors and a striking textural clarity that almost makes their distinctive characteristics seem especially highlighted. However, this recording isn't meant to be a sonic showcase for audiophiles, because the drama, musicality, and visceral excitement of the performances soon override the novelty of instrumentation, and the overall effect of the presentation is a startling reassessment and a refreshing change from the weightier Berlioz of a Thomas Beecham or a Colin Davis. No one could write for brass more blazingly than Berlioz, and his skillful handling of the woodwinds is even more apparent when heard with early Romantic timbres. The ultimate pleasure of this disc, though, is found in the cohesion, agility, and passion of the group's playing, and Roth's confident leadership comes through in his precision and alert attention to details. Highly recommended.

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