Hector Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique & La Mort de Cléopâtre
Olga Borodina, Wiener Philharmoniker, Valery Gergiev (2003)
PS3 Rip | SACD ISO | DST64 2.0 & 5.1 > 1-bit/2.8224 MHz | 72:07 minutes | Artwork (PDF) | 4,29 GB
or FLAC 2.0 Stereo (converted with foobar2000 to tracks) 24bit/88,2 kHz | Full Artwork (PDF) | 1,32 GB
Features 2.0 Stereo and 5.1 multichannel surround sound | Decca/Philips # 470 632-2
Valery Gergiev turns in a generally fine Symphonie fantastique, one that really heats up in the last two movements, as any good performance must. The March to the Scaffold has an aptly menacing character, with very clearly voiced timpani and plenty of panache to the brass playing. The finale begins quite quickly and never lets up; it has the special Berliozian frenzy that so many versions never manage to capture. Elsewhere the results are a bit more variable. The first movement goes quite well on the whole, barring a pointless slow-down at one point toward the end, but the second-movement waltz is strange, with oddly Stravinskian accents disrupting its flow and a general lack of rhythmic tension. However Gergiev does find pretty much the ideal tempo for the slow movement, and the oboe and English horn solos have an appealingly plaintive, pastoral character.
La Mort de Cléopatre makes a generous bonus, but not in this performance. Without getting hung up on the details, Gergiev certainly conducts it well enough, but Olga Borodina simply has the wrong voice for the part: thick, heavy, and often unsteady. She sounds dead before the music even begins–okay, maybe it’s not that bad, but compared to singers like Jessye Norman, Véronique Gens, or Janet Baker, she captures neither the nobility of the Egyptian queen nor the pathos of her predicament. Happily, given that many discs offer just the symphony, we can ignore this particular “bonus”, and the rating reflects this. Philips offers vivid live sonics that project the unique timbres of the Vienna Philharmonic horns and strings particularly well, though the harps in the second movement should sound more seductive. Fantastique collectors will find plenty to enjoy here.