* BERLIOZ: Symphonie fantastique; Waverly Overture – London Sym./ Valery Gergiev – LSO Live (Pure Audio Blu-ray + SACD)

* BERLIOZ: Symphonie fantastique; Waverly Overture – London Sym./ Valery Gergiev – LSO Live Pure Audio Blu-ray & SACD LSO0757, 65:35 (DTS-HD MA 5.0 or PCM 2.0 on audio-only Blu-ray) (10/14/14) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] *****:

The Symphonie fantastique is an old warhorse that orchestras never tire of playing and audiences seem to never tire of hearing. This new recording by the London Symphony Orchestra is offered in several versions in a two-disc set. There is a Pure Audio Blu-ray with a DTS MA 5.1 surround version, along with a two-channel PCM mix. A second disc is a hybrid multichannel SACD of the same program. For this review I listened mostly to the Blu-ray version.

The first performance of the Symphonie fantastique was heard in Paris in 1830. It’s a large-scale work, with the original score calling for more than 90 instruments. My favorite recording has always been the over the top Bernstein Columbia recording, and I think it matched up well with the composer’s intentions, as the music gets wild and ends on an emotional roller coaster.

The London Symphony under the baton of Valery Gergiev seem fully committed to this work, and while it starts at a more leisurely pace than I am used to, the orchestra gets deep into the work as it moves toward the frenetic later movements.

The lossless DTS Master Audio tracks are really superb. The music emerges from a noiseless background. The strings sound realistic, and the orchestral image is well rendered in the front speakers. The deep bass is solid for the fourth and fifth movements, never blurring and the dense orchestration never becomes sonically diffuse. It’s a demonstration quality recording with the wide dynamic range high resolution audio that are so well reproduced. The rear channels are for ambiance.

The Waverly Overture is not often heard. Composed in 1928, it was inspired by Sir Walter Scott’s Waverly novels, which concern the Jacobite uprising in 1745. It makes for a nice companion with the fantastique.

The London Symphony gives both Berlioz works their best. These are energetic performances, made all the more intense by the quality of the reproduction. The fantastique is a fresh reading, and in some respects, like hearing the piece for the first time. The clarity of the instruments is stunning, yet the recording never sounds like it is striving for a spectacular recording like the old Phase 4 discs, yet that is the result.

This is just a first rate package. While the second disc adds to the price, it also covers all the sonic formats letting you compare or match your equipment requirements. Both multichannel recordings are clearly audibly better than the standard CD layer, and should remove doubts from those who think all well-mastered recordings sound the same. [2L is the only other label who have regularly offered both the Pure Audio Blu-ray plus an SACD…Ed.]

—Mel Martin





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