Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique, Op 14; Lélio, ou Le Retour à la vie

Reviewed on Fri 16 Oct, 2015

I noticed some while ago when comparing Muti’s Philadelphia and Chicago versions of music from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet ballet how this recent tendency towards slimmed and sweetened lines benefits the music, and you sense it right from the Symphonie’s opening bars.

Versions of Berlioz’s Lélio – a sequel to the Symphonie fantastique with plentiful unaccompanied spoken dialogue (around 20 minutes’ worth in this particular context) – are not exactly thick on the ground. Gérard Depardieu is a dramatic exponent of the text, and there are some beautiful moments in the orchestral score, most especially the opening of the ‘Tempest Fantasy’ (disc 2, track 12), which, as with the Symphonie, is performed here by Riccardo Muti and his Chicago forces with the utmost refinement. I noticed some while ago when comparing Muti’s Philadelphia and Chicago versions of music from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet ballet how this recent tendency towards slimmed and sweetened lines benefits the music, and you sense it right from the Symphonie’s opening bars. This is one of the loveliest accounts available, and although hardly short on drama – the ‘March to the Scaffold’ (with repeat) is especially good – manages the perennially tricky balance that Berlioz poses between classicism and romanticism with great skill. The highly dynamic sound is an added bonus, and the playing of the Chicago orchestra is superb.
–Rob Cowan