This collection includes some Berlioz recordings made by the Decca Recording Company which were pioneers on their release, and which are still very highly thought of today.
Predating ffrr recording by nine years are a couple of works conducted by Sir Hamilton Harty (1879-1941), whose Berlioz recordings have remained in the catalogue on and off since they were first recorded in 1935. Harty, here working with the London Symphony Orchestra rather than his own Hallé Orchestra, gets some excellent ensemble with some high-energy playing. He had a real feel for that light, nervous writing Berlioz includes, and the bold brass writing come over most successfully, too. There are short patches of swishing from the shellac source in the King Lear overture, but the sound from 1935 is remarkably good.
Victor de Sabata got excellent playing from the London Philharmonic Orchestra in May 1946 in the Roman Carnaval overture, recorded in Walthamstow. The orchestra was in fine form just after the war, conducted by some of the best orchestral trainers of the day. Sabata was one of these, evincing a tight disciplined performance not at the expense of warmth. Munch’s 1948 recording of the Corsair opens the disc with a magnificently fiery reading with the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra, recorded in the Maison de la Mutualité by Kenneth Wilkinson, responsible for all the ffrr recordings on this CD.
Eduard van Beinum (1900-1959) was responsible to a large extent for the excellent condition of the LPO from 1946. A conductor who produced recordings of lasting value due to his command of the architecture of the music he conducted, and his reluctance to “make points”. The Symphonie fantastique recording dates from September 1951, and shows off the Concertgebouw Orchestra of the day to excellent effect. Recorded in the Grote Saal, the orchestra’s home, the Wilkie sound is first class for the period. The strings, in particular are very fine, and if the brass are very occasionally a little too excitable they serve to heighten the drama. The march to the scaffold’s tempo seems near-ideal, the reveries pregnant with atmosphere. Notes and audio restoration are to a generally high standard; it has been a pleasure to welcome back these notable readings.
— Peter Joelson