Mariss Jansons / Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra

Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique; Varèse: Ionisation

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The pairing of Hector Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique with Edgard Varèse's Ionisation is unusual and attention-getting programming, and it may be puzzling as well, but there is a valid reason for combining these pieces on this 2014 BR Klassik release. Both Berlioz and Varèse were major innovators of their times, and the former's expansion of the orchestra's potential for tone colors is reflected in the latter's treatment of the percussion ensemble. It is certainly true that both composers were tremendously influential to their contemporaries, Berlioz on the sound of Romantic and post-Romantic orchestral music, and Varèse in the quest for new timbres and effects in modern works. This recording by Mariss Jansons and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra presents a fairly conventional interpretation of the Symphonie fantastique, and one might have preferred a historically informed reading on period instruments, if only to highlight the revolution Berlioz started in orchestration and his pioneering of extended techniques. As it is, this performance is far from startling, and the smooth playing makes it seem rather safe. Ionisation, on the other hand, is clear, focused, and forceful, and if the Berlioz doesn't get the blood pumping, perhaps this track will. But considering the rather short timing of this CD at just under an hour, one of Varèse's large orchestral works, say Amériques or Arcana, would have been a more appropriate and satisfying offering than Ionisation, which at 7 minutes doesn't balance the disc.

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