* BERLIOZ: Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14; Overture to Beatrice and Benedict – Scottish Chamber Orch./ Robin Ticciati – Linn multichannel SACD CKD 400, 63:12 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:
27-year-old Robin Ticciati, conductor of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Principal Guest Conductor of the Bamberg Symphony has been making quite a splash as the youngest conductor to do this, that, or the other, depending on which orchestra or opera or festival we are talking about. Sometimes the parents just have to shove the kid out of the nest, and in this case Linn Records has done just that, giving the young man a crack at one of the most-recorded symphonies in the world, and one that has at least ten (that I can think of) legendary readings as well—and they all still hold up just fine, thank you. A couple of years ago I reviewed what I then thought a superb reading by Janowski and Pittsburgh and concluded that it didn’t supplant the 1954 Munch/Boston reading in fantastic two-channel SACD sound—still the best in my opinion—but that it was probably the best modern version available especially if one wanted to consider the sound.
And now along comes this one, by a chamber orchestra of all things, and a conductor I was just marginally familiar with. Let’s get the chamber thing out of the way first—with 30-some strings we easily get enough heft, and the way the Super Audio surround catches detail after detail, and the way Ticciati brings such special and apt emphasis to so many hidden things in the orchestration, well, believe me, crank up the volume on this little honey and you get all the orchestra you want, and more than your neighbors might like. The SCO has luscious tonal qualities and all the technical acumen of the Concertgebouw, so there is not much to complain about.
Interpretatively Ticciati gets it all just about right; okay, maybe he’s just a tad slow in the first movement, and maybe I miss a little of the superimposed rush to the finish line in the last movement—not that this one is short on adrenaline—but these are quibbles in a performance that is remarkably consistent and brilliantly illuminating on just about any count you can think of. There really is freshness in the interpretation that hits you head on, as if you were just discovering this piece. (Remember the first time you ever heard this? And how blown away you were? I get some of that feeling here as well, or at least an excitement that he is hearing it that way.) It’s nice to realize that the younger generation understands the significance of this piece as well as we older folks, and can even lead us to hear things we never did!
Beatrice and Benedict, after Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing was created as a sort of respite when Berlioz finally put to rest The Trojans, but his fatigue at that later time of life didn’t stop him from granting this opera (and overture) a litheness and humor that another of the old guard, Verdi, was to find in Falstaff. Ticciati again finds just the right amount of lightness and precision to give us a splendid reading.
What else can I say? Get this!
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