BERLIOZ: Symphonie fantastique – Royal Concertgebouw Orch. /Daniele Gatti – RCO

BERLIOZ: Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14 (1830) – Royal Concertgebouw Orch. /Daniele Gatti – rec. live, April 1 & 3, 2016 – RCO multichannel SACD RCO16006, 57:30 (9/9/16) [Dist. by Naxos] ** 1/2:

Not the fire I would expect from Gatti and Berlioz.

Daniele Gatti has been helming the Concertgebouw for two years, replacing Mariss Jansons who stepped down after 11 years. Jensons’ years there were generally considered a bit too laid back by many critics, who felt the orchestra was idling in neutral. Gatti’s appointment as Chief Conductor was widely applauded. He’s a consummate musician, and has brought some fresh thinking to many classical works.

That said, this recording of the Berlioz Symphony fantastique is a bit of a puzzlement. The performance seems subdued, and not a pure reflection of the excitement Berlioz designed for the work. It’s clinical, and a polar opposite to the famous (infamous) Leonard Bernstein performance from 1963 that may be one of the best known recordings of the symphony. My favorite interpretation was Colin Davis who led the Concertbouw in 1974 and it’s still available on a remastered Decca CD.

Certainly, Gatti gets the details right, and he’s in complete control of the orchestra, but the approach seems more classical than romantic. This is all very subjective, but to my ear and my knowledge of Gatti, I expected a bit more.

The recording strikes me in the same way. The orchestra is a bit too distant, although it never sounds hollow. I listened to the native 5.0 recording, and the surrounds are very subdued. This is a good recording, but it’s not the production decision I would expect for this composition. Others may find it appropriate, so as I said, we are in the world of the subjective. My suspicion is Gatti got the sound he wanted to match his conception of the symphony.

Gatti is a terrific conductor, and I think he is bringing increased acclaim to Amsterdam. I just don’t find this particular performance up to the standard Gatti has set.

—Mel Martin

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