BERLIOZ: SYMPHONIE FANTASTIQUE [Valery Gergiev & the Vienna Philharmonic]

This combination of French composer, Viennese orchestra and Russian conductor couldn’t be more perfect. Berlioz’s great romantic work demands an unlikely mix of agility, precision and passion to cope with its traversing of the full catalogue of emotion. Berlioz inscribed the title page of this first symphony with the words of Victor Hugo: My heart’s book inscribed on every page -¦ all I have suffered, all I have attempted. Inspired by the great dramatic structures of Shakespeare and Beethoven, this orchestral dream is unabashedly ambitious. Under Gergiev’s skilled leadership, this at times unwieldy work comes off as a beautifully choreographed tour of the romantic imagination. The famed Vienna strings are as lush as you could wish, they open the work with haunting sensitivity and build with great force to its more cacophonous passages. One can choose to follow the programmatic hints offered by Berlioz’s subtitle for the symphony: Episode de la vie d’un artiste and the matching movement titles but this is much more than an individual journey. Included as a fill-up on this CD are two arias from Berlioz’s Death Of Cleopatra sung with great feeling by mezzosoprano Olga Borodina.

DVORAK: PIANO CONCERTO [Pierre-Laurent Aimard]

With his recent acclaimed recordings of Beethoven and Debussy, French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard has suddenly risen from a respected interpreter of difficult 20th century work -“ Ligeti and Messiaen -“ to a major recording talent. In this recording he again teams up with Nikolaus Harnoncourt to produce delightful and enlightening music-making. Aimard is a technically nimble pianist but his real talent is in the fluidity of his interpretations. Unlike most great piano concertos, the piano line in Dvorak’s only attempt at the genre is integrated into the orchestral playing. So it has few show-off moments. It is precisely Aimard’s ability to work within these constraints and still produce a personally inflected performance that makes this recording so good. His affinity with Harnoncourt and the forces of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra is particularly evident in the evocative second movement. The disc also includes a recording of Dvorak’s strange symphonic poem The Golden Spinning Wheel, a programmatic work based on a Czech fairy tale of a king, a lost love, wicked stepmothers, a magic spinning wheel and of course a final reunion. As the tale might imply this piece has its schlock moments.

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