Robin Ticciati / Scottish Chamber Orchestra

Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique

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In the hands of Robin Ticciati and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Hector Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique receives a near-period style reading that is full of special surprises, not least that a modern instrumental ensemble can sound quite close to an early Romantic orchestra. Listeners familiar with historically informed performance practices will immediately recognize the sound of strings played senza vibrato, and the raw timbres of the woodwinds and brass offer a convincing subtitute for wind instruments of the early 19th century. But Ticciati's spontaneous interpretation makes the Symphonie fantastique sound even more like a product of a fevered Romantic imagination, namely Berlioz's: the push and pull of rubato, the explosive attacks, and the unexpected sonorities in odd places that Ticciati draws from the orchestra all conspire to make this a genuinely startling, risk-taking, and fun performance. There are many excellent recordings that can be placed along the spectrum from conventional to authentic versions, but few can keep one guessing as much as this spellbinding performance does. Ticciati's success boils down to the decisions he makes about dynamics, moods, gestures, expression, and accentuation, and there is no way to anticipate his choices, which are all brilliantly effective. The colors of the orchestra are simply marvelous in their variety, the quality of Linn Records' hybrid multichannel recording is the highest possible, and the inclusion of the sparkling Overture to Béatrice et Bénédict is an added treat. But connoisseurs who think their favorite recordings of Symphonie fantastique are the most exhilarating they've ever heard should give this ear-opening and mind-expanding hybrid SACD a try. Absolutely recommended.

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