- Symphonie fantastique for orchestra ("Episode de la vie d'un Artiste...en cinq parties"), H.48 (Op. 14)
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Admirers of Sir Colin Davis' legendary Berlioz performances know that his 1974 recording of "Symphonie fantastique" was an outstanding LP in the Philips catalog, and that it has been reissued several times since on CD, each time to renewed praise. Davis is almost ideal for this work, which is precariously balanced on the knife-edge between Classicism and Romanticism; few other conductors have the intellect and temperament to control the Apollonian and Dionysian impulses in Berlioz, and the sympathy for both the elegant and grotesque aspects so evident in this revolutionary masterpiece. This performance, reissued in 2006 in Universal's The Originals line, is a classic rendition that will satisfy both casual listeners and connoisseurs: there are no controversial choices made here (e.g., in the manner of Roger Norrington's period-instrument recording), or dubious decisions, as in Paavo Järvi's wildly Romantic but distorted reading. Instead, Davis takes the Concertgebouw Orchestra through all the intense passions and hallucinations of Berlioz's over-the-top program, yet at the same time observes all the formal aspects of the work, preserving its shape and trajectory. Handled this way, "Symphonie fantastique" is compelling as a story of love, death, and the supernatural, and also fully convincing as a symphony, albeit one extended beyond the conventions of its time and filled with many innovations. Philips' 24-bit remastering makes the recording even more desirable, especially for the added depth of the ensemble and the startling clarity of details that were easy to miss on the LP and the early CD releases. This restored album is highly recommended.