Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique - SCO & Ticciati - NPR Deceptive Cadence
17 July 2012NPR Deceptive Cadence
Robin Ticciati is the principal conductor of the Scottish Chamber
Orchestra and principal guest conductor of the Bamberg Symphony in
Germany. He's conducted at the Metropolitan Opera and just finished a
run of Britten's Peter Grimes
at La Scala. Ticciati has also been tapped to take over England's
storied Glyndebourne Festival Opera in 2014. And did I mention he's
The career of the young British conductor, with his boyish looks and Dudamel-like
mop of curly dark hair, has been rising with lightning speed. It wasn't
that long ago Ticciati's talents were spotted (and later cultivated) by
veteran conductors Simon Rattle and Colin Davis
when he was a teenage timpanist in Britain's National Youth Orchestra.
At age 21 he made his opera conducting debut in a Glyndebourne
production of Mozart's Magic Flute.
at the close of his third season leading the SCO, Ticciati and his
players have released their first album together, a lithe and gripping
account of one of the essential workouts for any orchestra, Hector Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique.
audiences in 1830 had never heard anything remotely like it. The nearly
hour-long symphony is a shocking self-portrait in sound, documenting
the composer's obsessive pursuit of Shakespearean actress Harriet
Smithson. Berlioz used - some said abused - the symphony orchestra as an
outlet for the feverish emotions of a man wildly in love. In Berlioz's
hands, brasses snarl and woodwinds shriek like feral beasts.
all the dramatic outpouring, it's easy, Ticciati says, for conductors
and orchestras to get carried away. "I hear this piece as an opera," he
told Gramophone recently. "It's incredibly vivid, but too many performances overdo it."
is careful not to overplay or splash excessive color. Working with an
orchestra smaller than the composer prescribed, he manages to tell
Berlioz's fantastic story - from the ardent and lyrical to the
horrifically grotesque - with detailed transparency and enough firepower
for the big dramatic moments.
violins are light on their feet yet ache with yearning as the graceful
main melody, depicting Berlioz's beloved, appears in the opening
movement. Underneath, the low strings beat with the nervous palpitations
of the young lover's heart. Moments for individual players also stand
out for their color and polish, most notably the plaintive English horn
solo that arches over the pastoral landscape in the Scene in the Fields.
This is an agile, feline Fantastique,
especially in the final two movements - The "March to the Scaffold" and
"Dream of a Witches' Sabbath" - where the macabre and melodramatic play
out in musical hallucinations.
his love is unrequited, Berlioz poisons himself with opium which,
instead of killing him, plunges him into a nightmare: He murders his
beloved and is led to the scaffold for beheading. Ticciati builds the
movement with suspense, from the eerie distant timpani and muted brass
to swirling strings and snorting tubas. At the end, Smithson's memory,
in a deranged little clarinet riff, flashes across the composer's mind
just before the blade drops. Ticciati's brass and percussion deliver the
swift blow and the head falls with a kerplunk and the crowd cheers in a
brass fanfare. (Hear it near the end of the excerpt above.)
his own funeral, Berlioz sees an orgy of witches and ghosts, and among
them drifts Smithson herself. It's hard to imagine being an audience
member in 1830, listening to Berlioz's bacchanal of otherworldly (and
innovative) sounds, including squealing clarinets, the tolling of real
bells and the skeletal tapping of violin strings with the wooden part of
It all sounds fresh and
potent in Ticciati's hands, with the SCO players giving their all in the
symphony and the sprightly overture from Béatrice and Bénédict
that follows. Linn records, the audiophile label from Scotland, has
captured the orchestra in lustrous sound. I suggest you turn this one up
Related LinksRobin TicciatiScottish Chamber OrchestraBerlioz: Symphonie Fantastique