BERLIOZ Symphonie Fantastique
Emmanuel Krivine’s account of the Symphonie fantastique, sensitively filmed at the Cité de la Musique in 2014 during La Chambre Philharmonique’s 10th anniversary, somehow manages to be physical yet restrained, transparent but unilluminated, not quite routine, not quite racy.
Much is made of the ‘orchestre sur instruments d’époque’, as if, 30 years after the first period recordings by Norrington and Gardiner, this were novel. It isn’t, even if it is still surprisingly rare. That means, as extras, you get video presentations of period violins, bassoons, and timpani but not, alas, the wonderful serpent and ophicleides that show up in the performance. In the concert proper, the 64 players are committed, rhythmically alert and attuned to each other. The playing is clean, with a characterful wind section forward in the balance.
But as has become ever more generally clear over the years, radical instrumentation does not for radical interpretation make. Jos van Immerseel and Anima Eterna Brugge (Zig-Zag Territoires, 5/10) are more provocative on period instruments, while Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony, the victors in my recent Berlioz survey (Harmonia Mundi, 10/16), are still unmatched for shock power.
First time round, I made the error of watching the performance with Krivine’s commentary turned on. Presumably unscripted, what could have been an insightful exercise turns out to be more suspect. His comments on the musicians – an oboist is a ‘tortured soul’ and a flautist is ‘not an easy fellow’ – might be heard by some viewers as honest, by others as belittling.
And then there’s a soliloquy on female instrumentalists, which obscures a good chunk of ‘Un bal’. ‘Women musicians are very conscientious’, Krivine comments, after he recounts his progressive bona fides. ‘I have nothing against men, but you need a balance.’ Baffling.