Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique - SCO & Ticciati - TV Bomb

10 October 2011
TV Bomb
4 Stars

A countess falsely accused of adultery, a religious meditation, at least three deaths and two funeral marches: the Scottish Chamber Orchestra was taking something of a risk programming such seemingly downbeat subject matter for the opening concert of its 2011/12 season.

By the interval, Schumann's Countess Genoveva had survived all the finger-pointing in an overture that didn't travel very far, but did have some impressively raucous horns. Tristia (Sad Things) by Hector Berlioz featured the SCO Chorus in a setting of Thomas Moore's Meditation, though the piece made little impression, and the women's voices seemed on occasion to come adrift of the orchestra in the following "Death of Ophelia". However, the "Funeral March" for the last scene of Hamlet - the final part of Tristia - was appropriately theatrical, gradually building to an anguished outpouring from orchestra and chorus, before fading away to nothing.

The second half brought a transformation. This was the first occasion on which the SCO had ever played Berlioz's ground-breaking Symphonie Fantastique of 1830-2. Principal Conductor Robin Ticciati was keen to encourage his smaller, leaner forces to concentrate on phrasing, articulation and colouring, to bring out textures and details that are liable to go missing when the piece is played by a full symphony orchestra. The results were spectacular.

The first movement - "Daydreams" - was leisurely and unhurried, with only the slightest hint of trouble ahead, while the ball scene, in which the artist whose life the piece depicts watches his unattainable beloved dancing, was nimble and fleet of foot, yet somehow pastoral rather than grand. Only the ominous string tremolos and distant timpani thunderstorm at the beginning and end of the "Scene in the Fields" disturbed the continuing calm. It was then that Ticciati played his trump card. As if turning on a sixpence, he unleashed the full force of the orchestra in the "March to the Scaffold", and a seriously scary "Dream of a Witches' Sabbath" showcasing some staggeringly virtuosic woodwind playing. A compelling performance.

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