Sir Colin Davis, London Symphony Orchestra, Bedrich Smetana, Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique

Gavin Borchert

By Gavin Borchert

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique

Sir Colin Davis, London Symphony Orchestra, Bedrich Smetana
A “difficult” composer, conducted with ease.

What makes Berlioz's music a particular challenge for conductors? Its rhetoric: his scores are full of starts, stops, turns, parenthetical thoughts, moment-to-moment surprises. It doesn't flow like any other composer's music does, and for a conductor to preserve that quality of surprise while keeping everything moving along and not sounding incoherent is difficult. Few can manage it like Sir Colin Davis, long praised for his Berlioz performances. His reading of the composer's five-movement recreation of the opium dream of an obsessed lover is dramatically stirring, ablaze with color (the composer's orchestral special effects never sounded more startling) and perfectly paced. As a bonus, this disc includes Davis 'quicksilver performance of the overture to Berlioz's 1862 opera (also available complete on eMusic) based on Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing.