Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique - SCO & Ticciati - Completely Berlioz

For a long time I considered the Polish Chamber Orchestra the best around especially under the direction of Jerzy Masymiuk and I own just about every LP they ever released. Then the advent of the Chamber orchestra of Europe hailed by the BBC as the finest in the world. I concurred with this opinion. They were and still are superb. However, I have just heard Robin Ticciati conduct the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and have concluded, on this showing, that they are well on their way to equalling, perhaps surpassing both groups mentioned above.

This is an awesome performance and if a more fitting testimonial can be made to the memory of Sir Charles MacKerras I shall be surprised. Conductor Laureate from 2005 until his death in 2010 together they made outstanding recording of the complete Beethoven symphonies, Mozart, Kodaly, Bartok etc.. The SCO had come of age. Then enter Robin Ticciati who seems to have fitted in with this band like hand in glove. I find it hard to believe that he has not augmented his forces for this daunting work but I have no liner notes to prove or disprove this contention. No suspension of disbelief is required for the opening 1st mov. but at 6.00 mins. into it the sound belies the adjective " chamber " and just sample the riotous last five minutes.

To highlight a few instances that make this recording so special I have never, ever heard timpani manage crescendo / diminuendo passages to such a degree of synronisation and balance as here. Take the chilling, mock-military passage beginning at 1".52 of the march where the winds, predominantly clarinet and bassoon, are given virtuosic hoops to jump through which they do with amazing panache. The idee fixe takes on a truely obsessional aura that I've not heard so perfectly characterised before. Un Bal is illumined by a dazzling array of chandeliers instead of the dulled down candelabra that we so often hear and the verve that those triplets delight in showing off is irrepressible.

For me the " Beecher's Brook " of this symphony is the Scène aux champs where the evocation of an almost monochrome atmosphere is essential. Here we are looking through frosted glass at the low lying mists just skimming the fields...that is until Berlioz has a customary mood swing. The whole thing is a delight from start to finish and can hold its head high in the company of such benchmark performances as those by Munch, Beecham and Davis. I was somewhat cynical when I heard it being hyped as a performance " to listen to through new ears " but there is no zeal like that of a convert. Yes, I did detect some variations in tempi, a little mis-cueing here and there ( eg. in the " March to the Scaffold ", ( 2.38/39 mins. ), where the horns are askew) but this is quibbling. The life of an artist is here in his resplendent finery, his drugged delirium, his unconquerable notion of eternal love and I have no doubt were Berlioz present to hear this account his joy would know no bounds.

22 April 2012