Friday, August 22, 2014

Symphonie Fantastique

Every once in a while I review a performance on this blog.  Here goes.

Last Friday night I was invited to a Mostly Mozart festival concert featuring the Berlioz, a work I have never enjoyed, though it is referred to constantly as seminal in the unfolding of the symphonic genre.  I dreaded yet another boring, dutiful rehash.

Much to my surprise I was on the edge not just of my seat but of my very ear as every extreme of articulation, intonation, dynamic, and tempo was turned into orchestral magic by the extraordinary musicianship of conductor Louis Langree and the festival orchestra, which turned in a virtuoso performance.

Key to the success was reading between the notes: finding movement where the conventional reader finds only a job to be done, detecting cutting irony by pushing extremes of association, causing the familiar to become the unknown.  The classic example of this is Berlioz's use of the Dies Irae chant in the last movement: always funereal, except as transformed in this performance into a macabre death dance of the most life-affirming sort.

Not a trace of sentimentality in any of the movements.


PS: In The New York Times of August 18 the performance was as panned as panned gets by a reviewer who did not get it.  She faulted the articulation, the intonation, the frenzy of the percussion and the brass, indicating that they teetered on the fine line between the "lurid and the ludicrous."  Indeed, they did not teeter, but crossed the line so consistently as to reveal the work's deeply ironic potential. 

Happily the audience did not miss it.  Where was she?