Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique - SCO & Ticciati - National Public Radio
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.
Thinking 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.
At 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 the bow.
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 loud.