Glorious Berlioz Stripped Bare; Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment Symphony Hall
Byline: Christopher Morley
If ever a composer deserved the benefit of a 'period-instrument' approach to performance, then that composer is Berlioz. With the cushioning sound of slick modern symphony orchestras we have become blase about the novel expressiveness of his fertile imagination and, with the diminishing returns of repeated listening, have become only too aware instead of the crudeness of his harmonic and structural techniques.
But when a fine period orchestra under a great conductor wipes the accumulation of 150-odd years from his scores and restores them to us pristine and vital, then we can appreciate anew just how daring and gripping were the revolutionary timbres he conceived and achieved, sweeping us along with the conviction that blazes from every freshly cleaned note.
And this is precisely what happened over the weekend in two concerts devoted to Berlioz from the remarkable Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under Sir Simon Rattle, mixing some rarities with some of the orchestral repertoire's most well-worn staples and conveying them all with zest and enthusiasm.
Friday night began with the Carnaval Romain Overture, memorable for its extended cor anglais solo, more pungent and less plangent than modern ears have come to expect, the delicacy of its dancing strings and their sinewy clarity as trombones rasped through them and, above all, for its wonderful evocation of a Mediterranean fiesta, full-throated melodies generously coloured and punctuated by tight throbbing rhythms.
It ended with a spectacularly tremendous Symphonie Fantastique, Rattle responding to all the music's fevered fantasy whilst never dawdling over its potentially sagging structure. …