Berlioz: Great Orchestral Works
It's hard to believe that Berlioz's luridly colorful and emotionally out-of-control Symphonie Fantastique (1830) could have been written less than a decade after Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. While the Ninth broke with the traditional symphonic form in its choral finale, Berlioz's Symphonie hardly seems to resemble its classical predecessors. Inspired by the young composer's burning passion for an English actress, this work consists of five opium-induced visions, including a hallucination in which the composer is executed (he even wrote the thud of the guillotine into the music) and concluding with a nightmarish depiction of a witches' sabbath that outdoes Wes Craven. "Harold in Italy" is a symphony for viola and orchestra inspired by Byron's epic poem, "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage." Only slightly more subdued than the Symphonie Fantastique, the final movement -- depicting "An Orgy of the Brigands" -- is yet another brilliantly psychedelic musical canvas. Sir Colin Davis became known as a Berlioz specialist primarily through these highly praised recorded interpretations, which are as powerful and passionate as this music demands. This two-for-the-price-of-one reissue makes these versions more valuable still.