Seiji Ozawa / Boston Symphony Orchestra

Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique

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Even though Deutsche Grammophon has retrieved vintage recordings from the vaults for its Millennial Collection, don't think for a moment that this volume's reproduction is at all inferior or that the performances of Hector Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique and the "Scène d'amour" from Roméo et Juliette are anything less than fantastic. The Boston Symphony Orchestra under Seiji Ozawa is in exceptionally fine form in these pristine analog recordings, which date from 1973 and 1976, respectively, when the conductor and orchestra were at the beginning of their long relationship; the vividness of the interpretations and vitality of the playing make these recordings exciting to hear, and they seem to convey something of the performers' enthusiasm over working so brilliantly together. The Symphonie especially benefits from Ozawa's thorough understanding of the score, clear-headed direction, and sustained control, and listeners who might feel a bit jaded from hearing too many mediocre or indulgent performances will find this one to be striking in its details and compelling in its discipline: rarely has it sounded this coherent and tightly executed, particularly in the "Scène aux champs," where the structure holds together marvelously well. Ozawa also elicits some powerful effects in the pitiless Marche au supplice and the truly grotesque Songe d'une nuit de Sabbat, so anyone seeking thrills will be fully satisfied with this spine-tingling performance. The excerpt from Roméo et Juliette is much milder in its delicate timbres and ardent impulses, and the offstage singing by the New England Conservatory Chorus, directed by Lorna Cooke de Varon, provides subtle scene-painting in preparation for the rapturous garden scene. Deutsche Grammophon's remastering is clean and free of tape hiss, and the audio is remarkably realistic, as if these recordings were made only yesterday.

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