Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphonie fantastique. Harold en Italie
Christoph Eschenbach, cond; Tabea Zimmermann (va);
O de Paris
BEL AIR 16 (DVD: 103: 00) Live: Paris 2/14–15/2001
Eschenbach, in a black tunic from which the bald head, wild eyes, and Luciferian mien loom, hovers and dances over these essentially dramatic, narrative, pictorial—not to say picaresque—performances like an evil magician. Tempos are brisk, the pith volatile,
yet every line, color, gesture, and phrase has been shaped like a small work of art into seamless élan suffused with compellingly vibrant buoyancy. Everything not only speaks, bar by bar—caught in comprehensively detailed, buxom sound—everything
. What is told is spelled out by the few lines from Berlioz’s program and the titles in
preceding each movement; though what is communicated is a Dionysian tumult we’d lost sound of in the endless parsings and searches for a new slant on the overplayed
and the too-often clueless, travel-brochure accounts of
Eschenbach takes Berlioz at his word and forth the particulars of intoxicated rapture come. And while one is accustomed to mugging, corybantic baton men—e.g., the risible Karajan
the same orchestra in 1970 conducting the entire
with closed eyes (EMI 4901139,
27:2)—Eschenbach is not only a great conductor but also a great actor whose podium presence projects both control and an excited awareness—an animated satisfaction—at the creatures of air he’s evoked and compelled; he validates, as no other, the visual medium. A pity the unobtrusive audience missed some of his best takes, though they’re ardently appreciative as the last notes fade. The orchestra follows Eschenbach’s lead with more body language than one usually sees, enacting the rhythmic incisiveness he draws from them.
’s viola obbligato is too often a tag-along whose squealing interjections can seem beside the point. Eschenbach’s
opening generates escalating suspense answered and lifted into another dimension as Tabea Zimmermann’s entrance establishes absolute authority with an articulately serried croon breathing life into Childe Harold’s soliloquies while evincing a Byronic swagger suggesting, for once, the viola concerto Paganini asked Berlioz to write. Nor is it irrelevant that she is an attractive woman whose not quite impassive features reflect the melancholy, sardonic, impassioned observations accompanying Harold’s pilgrimage.
Sound options are PCM stereo, Dolby digital 5.1, or DTS 5.1. The production booklet includes a brief note by Berlioz scholar D. Kern Holoman and a fine short essay by Jean-Pierre Bartoli. Primary. Indispensable. As close as you’ll come to the enchantment of one’s first hearing of these works.
Tuba mirum spargens sonum
. . . the “romantic agony” at full strength.
FANFARE: Adrian Corleonis
Works on This Recording
Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14 by Hector Berlioz
Written: 1830; France
Harold en Italie, Op. 16 by Hector Berlioz
Tabea Zimmermann (Viola)
Written: 1834; France
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