Colin Davis, conductor
Decca, 1974 (2006)
Symphonie fantastique: Épisode de la vie d’un artiste … en cinq parties (Fantastical Symphony: An Episode in the Life of an Artist, in Five Parts) is the long title Hector Berlioz chose for the famous program symphony which he composed in 1830 and which describes the hallucinations of an artist who poisoned himself with opium because of hopeless love. The Symphonie fantastique is in five movements which corresponds to five different feelings and experiences of the artist, beginning with a rêverie (a dream) followed by a ball, a country scene, a march to the scaffold and a Sabbath.
The recording I propose you is more than forty years old, but is still amazing for the rendition of Colin Davis, leading the Concertgebouw Orchestra. From a general point of view, the conduction is sumptuous and sensitive and is pervaded by a tension which becomes almost an obsession in the Marche au supplice and in the Sabbath. Every movement is appreciable for its independent character and the precision with which Davis stresses it: he is dreamy in the Rêverie, brilliant but not frivolous in the Ball, delicate and sometimes sombre in the Scene aux champs (“in the countryside”) and the march to the scaffold is tumultuous and lively, while the Sabbath, with its gloomy beginning, is magical. Davis’s direction is one of the richest and beautiful I have ever heard of Symphonie fantastique and is enthralling in every detail. I could not find any defect in it and I always approach it with pleasure and with the certainty to discover something new every time.