Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.
Symphonie fantastique. La Mort de Cléopâtre
Yannick Nézet-Séguin, cond;
Anna Caterina Antonacci (sop); Rotterdam PO
BIS SACD-1800 (SACD: 75:05)
In the context of Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s appointment as music director designate of the Philadelphia Orchestra, this new release takes on special import as a harbinger of the ailing ensemble’s future. I suspect, though, that his
would be of interest even without that extra baggage.
Granted, the recording has gotten flak from some early reviewers who panned it for excess decorum, even docility. The complaints are not ungrounded. A few of the wackier gestures, for instance, are normalized (try the extravagant dynamic hairpins at measure 61 of the first movement). And if you’re looking for sheer spectacle, you may well find the final two movements underplayed. The March is slightly jovial, without the irony that could give that surface affability a bitter edge, and the Witches’ Sabbath has volume without much violence. Certainly, you rarely get the sense that the players (especially the brass players) are pushing beyond the limits of their instruments, as you do, say, with the best recordings by Beecham, Bernstein, and Munch.
But there is certainly compensation in Nézet-Séguin’s ear-opening clarity and precision. I wouldn’t exactly call the performance “Gallic”—the orchestral sonority (especially the plump winds and the burnished, round-edged brass) is too rich for that. Even so, with its superb balances, its textural transparency, and its unusual level of detail (in particular, detail of rhythm and articulation), the performance tends to illuminate the music’s classical spirit even as it flaunts a lush surface. Notice, as but two examples, the resilience of the winds in the
that begins at measure 256 in “Un Bal,” or the contrapuntal vigor of the March.
Such attention to detail can easily turn into a pedantic end in itself, but that never happens here. Nézet-Séguin has a keen dramatic sense, even if he doesn’t much care for melodrama. As a result, the details always contribute the sense of momentum. Thus, for instance, the “Scène aux champs,” which can so easily sag, is impressively taut (despite a tempo on the slow side of normal), building to a tremendous climax at measure 107. In general, I’m usually not enthusiastic about well-tempered performances of the
, but this one has won me over, even if it hasn’t replaced my favorites. For the record, Nézet-Séguin takes the repeats—and leaves out the optional cornet part in the second movement.
His fine ear for nuance pays even higher dividends in his superb accompaniment in
La Mort de Cléopâtre
. Let’s be frank: This is no masterpiece, and a lot of the orchestral writing can sound a bit utilitarian. But because of Nézet-Séguin’s careful articulation, you hardly notice the threadbare quality here; every measure advances the overall dramatic argument. There’s an impressive sense of inevitability in the repeated rhythms of the second movement, and while he plays down some of the grotesqueries in the
, you can hardly complain about the orchestral shriek at the snake bite in
. As for Anna Caterina Antonacci, she’s a distinguished Berliozian. Reviewing the Gardiner DVD of
, Adrian Corleonis claimed that “the strongest acting and the surest, sheerest vocalism” was found in her Cassandra (
28:4), an assessment confirmed by James Reel, who called her “the real star on stage” when he reviewed the Blu-ray version (see 34:2). The same qualities are found here. Her voice is not always notable for its sonic allure (especially when pressed at its upper reaches), but even in recitatives that can sound like note-spinning in lesser hands, she always sustains the emotional flame of the music.
BIS’s sound is excellent without a trace of flamboyance. The all-important bass lines, in particular, have exceptional definition, and especially on the surround tracks the offstage music is handled with aplomb. All in all, a major statement.
FANFARE: Peter J. Rabinowitz
Works on This Recording
Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14 by Hector Berlioz
Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1830; France
La mort de Cléopâtre by Hector Berlioz
Anna Caterina Antonacci (Soprano)
Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1829; France
Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14: I. Reveries: Largo - Passions: Allegro agitato e appassionato assai
Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14: II. Un Bal (Valse): Allegro non troppo
Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14: III. Scene aux Champs: Adagio
Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14: IV. Marche au Supplice: Allegretto non troppo
Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14: V. Songe d'une Nuit du Sabbat: Larghetto - Allegro
La mort de Cleopatre: Recitative: C'en est donc fait! ma honte est assuree
La mort de Cleopatre: Meditation: Grands Pharaons, nobles Lagides
Be the first to review this title