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Hector Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique; Nuits D'ete (Ii-vi)

Berlioz / Steber / Mitropoulos / Monteux
Release Date: 02/12/2013 
Label:  Praga   Catalog #: 350071   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Hector Berlioz
Performer:  Eleanor Steber
Conductor:  Pierre MonteuxDimitri Mitropoulos
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic OrchestraNew York Philharmonic
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Mixed 
Length: 1 Hours 19 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BERLIOZ Symphonie fantastique 1. Les nuits d’été 2 1 Pierre Monteux, cond; 1 Vienna PO; 2 Dimitri Mitropoulos, cond; 2 New York PO; 2 Eleanor Steber (sop) PRAGA 350071 (79:17) Read more

Steber and Mitropoulos performed Les nuits d’été with the New York Philharmonic in May of 1953 and eventually recorded it along with some other Berlioz pieces the following January for Columbia Records with what I assume to have been the Philharmonic identified as the “Columbia Symphony Orchestra.” Sony issued it on CD but it is now deleted and the only way you can get a complete Steber/Mitropoulos Nuits d’été is through a reissue of the Philharmonic broadcast. The one that appears on this Praga CD is almost certainly the Columbia recording since the Philharmonic performance is somewhat faster and, at least on my AS Disc copy, is missing the opening bars of “Sur les lagunes.” Speaking of missing bars, this reissue is missing an entire song, “Villanelle.” According to the annotations, “Villanelle” “is not featured here because unsuited to the timbre of a mezzo-soprano.” My guess is that it is “not featured here” because of the CD’s 79:17 length…oh, and by the way, Steber wasn’t a mezzo-soprano. Even when Steber’s LP was available, there was no lack of competition, with recordings by Suzanne Danco with Thor Johnson and Victoria de los Angeles with Charles Munch. Subsequently, the cycle has been recorded by the likes of Elly Ameling, Régine Crespin, Susan Graham, and Frederica von Stade. In addition, Pierre Boulez, Colin Davis, and John Eliot Gardiner have recorded Les nuits with different singers performing the various songs in the cycle, an option that apparently had Berlioz’s approval and which I, for one, prefer despite my admiration for the fine sopranos who’ve recorded it. I might point out that the Praga transfer has a kind of “hooded” sound that isn’t as bright and clear as Sony’s reissue but if, for some reason, you must have this recording, at least Praga has brought it back, or rather, brought back most of it!

When I graduated from high school, some friends of mine gave me Eugene Ormandy’s first Symphonie fantastique as a present. The cover had a drawing of Berlioz’s face staring at me through an orange swirl. I really liked the performance and have no idea why I eventually got rid of it. About a decade later, I heard a recording by Pierre Monteux and the Vienna Philharmonic and dismissed it as merely “another good Symphonie fantastique .” Last month, I received this Praga reissue of that recording and was astounded—what was I thinking of back in the early ’60s? I was bowled over by the power and clarity of the recording, the orchestra’s beautiful playing, and what now struck me as the inevitability of Monteux’s performance. The Fantastique is not a characteristic Berlioz piece; for all his impulsive, “romantic” temperament, he was a classicist at heart and this piece does not need any goosing from the conductor—the “effects” will speak for themselves as they do here. I auditioned the recording again last night. I have some very impressive recordings of the symphony but, if I had to live with one, it would be this one. Forget about the incomplete Nuits d’été . It’s not much of a bonus and, given Monteux’s Symphonie fantastique , the CD doesn’t need one.

FANFARE: James Miller
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Works on This Recording

Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14 by Hector Berlioz
Conductor:  Pierre Monteux
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1830; France 
Length: 48 Minutes 43 Secs. 
Les nuits d'été, Op. 7 by Hector Berlioz
Performer:  Eleanor Steber ()
Conductor:  Dimitri Mitropoulos
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1840-1841; France 
Length: 28 Minutes 28 Secs. 
Les nuits d'été, Op. 7: Excerpt(s) by Hector Berlioz
Performer:  Eleanor Steber (Soprano)
Conductor:  Dimitri Mitropoulos
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New York Philharmonic
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1840-1841; France 

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