Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique op.14;
Le Carnaval Romain
Anima Eterna Brugge; Jos van Immerseel
ZIG-ZAG CD ZZT100101
• I am always leery about ‘period instrument groups’ tackling post 1800 repertoire. Although I am not about to change my prejudice, right from the first bars this recording impressed me as something very special. The uniqueness of this performance is not so just because of the period instruments; conductor van Immerseel brings a fresh approach in colour, tempo, balance, articulation, phrasing and dynamics.
For rabid fans of this symphony (myself included) the experience of first hearing this performance is startling. The presentation is so transparent that details of the scoring, invariably obscured in modern performances, are revealed, particularly from the winds, affirming that Berlioz was a peerless innovative genius.
And what about the ‘period instrument’ component? The Anima Eterna Orchestra, particularly the winds, are superb, playing with joie de vivre, gorgeous sound and beautiful tone colours. As a group they create an irresistible, luminous texture throughout the work. Listeners will be surprised to hear, not the usual bell sounds in the Witches Sabbath but the sustained piano chords as specified in the Berlioz manuscript. The piano strings blend with the orchestra to solemn effect adding a new sense of gravitas with a sobering subterranean effect, quite different from the mood of the tolling bells.
Without any doubt, Van Immerseel and his group daringly demonstrate the originality and genius of the composer. The recording, captured in faultless sound, was made in the sonically impressive Concertgebouw in Bruges to which this group is very well attuned. For me, this has been an unexpected and rewarding discovery.