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Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
Symphonie fantastique, Op 14 [55:15]
Tonkunstler-Orchester Niederosterreich/Andrés Orozco-Estrada
rec. live, 7 October 2012, Musikverein, Vienna, Austria

Ugh. This CD is impossible to review. It's not bad, so I can't tell you why I disliked it. It's not very good, either, so I can't tell you why I liked it. It's not even dull. It just sort of is. It exists, without any distinguishing characteristics you could use to discern this Symphonie fantastique from any other.
After my first listen, I could hardly remember anything about the performance. Everything is done well; not bad enough to be memorable but not good enough to be memorable. Phrases in many places lack the extra thrill of manic inspiration which you hear in Bernstein or Martinon. The pace isn't sleepy, either; it's average speed but soft focus. The slow movement is again well-paced, and never boring; the 'March' ditto, but also not calling attention to any special qualities beyond being correct. The chimes in the finale are tinny and high-pitched.
The Symphonie fantastique is one of those works that's hard to play very well, and even harder to play unforgettably. The conductor and virtually every instrument face a battle against the odds if their version is to really stand out and have the kind of nutty, fever-dream personality required without being absurd or sloppy. Bernstein managed it; Martinon managed it; Colin Davis managed it twice. All too often these days we settle for mere proficiency and professionalism. This disc certainly has that. I'm sure it was an enjoyable live concert. However, even when I sat down with the express purpose of listening carefully for this review, my attention wandered and I read a book and sent an e-mail and didn't notice much of distinction.
Andrés Orozco-Estrada has just been appointed music director of my former hometown band, the Houston Symphony Orchestra. In Texas, a Hispanic conductor will help with community outreach, business and charity ties, as well as building an excited audience. I saw a Houston Symphony “Latin Fiesta” program which sold out every last seat, and the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela played to a concert hall that felt more like a giant party. Orozco-Estrada will be good for the city in that way. It is to be hoped that he will mature enough to bring something more to the music than the competence he already has.
Brian Reinhart

Masterwork Index: Symphonie fantastique