Recorded originally on 3-track half-inch tape using only three Telefunken 201 mikes, few listeners hearing proper reproduction of the multichannel option of this disc would ever guess that they are hearing recordings made in 1958 and 59. Even when limited to the two-channel stereo mixes created by Wilma Cozart some years ago for the CD reissues, one hears a more refined and silky sort of patina to the sonics than achieved with either the original LPs of the vinyl reissues from Classic Records. The feeling of perhaps the level being pushed a bit too high in an effort to reduce noise, or perhaps the mike placement being a bit too close is not here in the SACD iteration.
There are plenty of competitors in fantastique recordings, such as Colin Davis and the Concertgebouw, and Andre Previn and the LSO. I’ve always liked Leonard Bernstein’s super-neurotic treatment (released at one time together with his lecture titled “Berlioz Takes a Trip!”) – even though the strident fidelity of Columbia’s sound at that time has only been partially doctored in the CD reissues. Paray is the closest thing to the passionate, dramatic Bernstein interpretation, and in immensely better sound – especially in the glorious, impactful 3-channel option (though recorded two decades earlier!). The violent, slashing histrionics of the March to the Scaffold and Witches’ Sabbath closing movements are something to behold via the rich, wide and palpable orchestral soundstage displayed via three similar or identical speakers. The two closing overtures are a real delight as well, emphasizing the genius of Berlioz’ orchestrations, which achieved brilliant sound colors with an economy of note density. Both are among the most viscerally exciting overtures ever penned.
– John Sunier