S&H Review

BERLIOZ Symphonie fantastique; Overture Beatrice et Benedict LSO/Davis at The Barbican 27 & 28 September 2000 LSO 0007 (PGW)

Having covered for S&H most of Sir Colin Davis's Berlioz Odyssey 2000  at The Barbican, it is a pleasure to report that this concert performance (which I had to miss) sounds uncannily close to the sound from a good stalls seat there. The performances of both works are as lithe and vivid as one would expect, with a marvellous balance between the classical underpinning and Berlioz's avant-garde imaginativeness, which has one checking the symphony's date (1830-32) with disbelief. The rich tone quality and responsiveness of the LSO strings was especially notable, but everything else falls perfectly in place. One is swept up in the experience and it really is like having a whole orchestra welcomed into one's sitting room. The recording was made in the concert performances of 27 & 28 September 2000 (the Overture taken from the complete opera concert performance LSO 0004). The presentation of LSO Live has improved since the label's launch. There are excellent illustrated notes by Berlioz's biographer David Cairns.

The recording engineer for LSO Live, Tony Faulkner, has kindly shared some of his secrets with Seen&Heard:

"The LSO Live recording philosophy is one of using as few microphones as is practicable to try to capture concert atmosphere without the boring obsessive so-called detail of many digital-age orchestral studio recordings. The philosophy extends to avoiding days of patching sessions after the sessions to cover minuscule details in performance. The orchestra stays behind after the second performance of each programme for thirty minutes. During this period we re-record any odd disaster areas (usually down to hall extraneous noises - I guess you heard about Sir Colin's Symphonie Fantastique first night) and also the last few bars of any section where intrusive audience reaction would outstay its welcome upon repeated listening to the CD. Believe me, a 30 minute session does not allow any accommodation of trying to create a studio performance rather than that of a public concert.
The miking on the Dvorak was simple. A main pair over the third row of the audience. A pair of outriggers at lower level to control the perceived width of the front of the orchestra. Additionally we put out a pair of woodwind microphones "just in case", plus a mic near the timps. By modern standards this constitutes quite a modest microphone setup."

Collectors should have more than one version of the Symphonie fantastique; one Colin Davis recording (this or another) certainly, and a second one with a period orchestra (Sir Roger Norrington's revelatory South Bank weekend with the London Classical Players exploring Berlioz culminated with the Fantastic, which they went on to record EMI VIRGIN VM5613792 ).

Peter Grahame Woolf

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