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Thread: Blind Comparison - Symphonie Fantastique

  1. #16
    Senior Member eugeneonagain's Avatar
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    I'm on the last movement of the B recording. Feels like deja vu. I liked this recording better, as a recording, but the music is the same.
    First movement still just sounds like something stolen from Beethoven's waste paper bin, and at 15 minutes it's too long. Second movement is a waltz, that's basically it. There are loads of better waltzes.

    In recording A the third movement passed me by, but I listened more intently here. There are good bits, but it drags.

    Fourth movement: pretty straightforward and short.

    As you'll know from my attempt to scale Mount Mahler, I need extra materials alongside just listening and I read a some reviews that asked why he hadn't ended the work on the fourth movement, but the last movement is actually the best movement.

    I don't know if I can even come up to scratch with regard to the premise of this thread, because up to now they sound roughly the same. The music reminds me somewhat of Mahler, with its stopping and starting and grotesque dances.

    I need to go away and leave this to the aficionados .
    "Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself; but talent instantly recognises genius."

    Sherlock Holmes - The Valley of Fear.

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    Senior Member Becca's Avatar
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    "The music is the same" ? Wow, I hadn't noticed that

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    Senior Member eugeneonagain's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Becca View Post
    "The music is the same" ? Wow, I hadn't noticed that
    Now you're just mocking me! I probably deserve it.
    "Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself; but talent instantly recognises genius."

    Sherlock Holmes - The Valley of Fear.

  5. #19
    Senior Member amfortas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by eugeneonagain View Post
    First movement still just sounds like something stolen from Beethoven's waste paper bin . . .
    Doesn't sound like Beethoven to me. Which pieces?
    Last edited by amfortas; Nov-10-2018 at 17:59.
    Alan

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  7. #20
    Senior Member eugeneonagain's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by amfortas View Post
    Doesn't sound like Beethoven to me. Which pieces?
    All of them cut up and glued back together on a new sheet of paper.
    "Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself; but talent instantly recognises genius."

    Sherlock Holmes - The Valley of Fear.

  8. #21
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    My favorite is D, followed by A, E, B, and C.


    A - first movement has a slow, lamenting introduction, main section is not vivacious, no exposition repeat, strings have some portamento, sound favors the violins, second movement waltz is moderate in speed, dignified and aristocratic, third movement flows nicely, idyllic and lyrical at first, changing to anxiety in the middle part that isn't overdone, with the last part of the movement the best - peaceful and resigned, march to the scaffold is straightforward without exaggeration, the oddities and originality of the score are not emphasized, final movement takes a slow tempo, interesting in its clarity but everything should be more feverish and volatile, bells oddly include a piano, overall the interpretation is dignified and clear but it's too slow and lacks emotional intensity, rank = 2

    B - violins throughout the first movement are volatile and quickly changing in dynamics as indicated in the score, exposition is repeated, tempo is standard and so is the rest of the movement with nothing showing special insight or commitment, waltz is quick, slow movement has a gorgeous-sounding orchestra but expressive specificity is lacking, march to the scaffold is fast as is usual, exposition is repeated, coda is the best part, witches' sabbath is fast, overall the interpretation emphasizes orchestral virtuosity at the cost of emotional expressivity or musical insight, rank = 4

    C - resonant sound aims for sensuality, conductor does not keep the same tempo for more than a few bars, emotionally undisciplined and unrestrained, odd melodic lines emphasized, exposition not repeated, coda is slow and solemn, waltz theme is carefully and accurately phrased, expressive possibilities are explored with a slower-than-usual tempo, unorthodox and interesting to hear once, third movement starts out fast and lacks melancholy but the middle section is slow and expressive, tempos are all over the place and are not integrated, march to the scaffold is not too fast but mood is too cheerful and lacks anything sinister, last movement is appropriately weird and spooky, bells at first include cymbals, the interpretation is too unrestrained and is interesting to hear once but not more than that, rank = 5

    D - first movement introduction and first section are intense and volatile, no exposition repeat, development section speeds up in an expressive way, coda is not too slow, waltz has a prominent harp, theme is phrased musically with nuance and has a nice dance-like lilt to it, soulful english horn opens the third movement, tempo is slow but works well because it is expressively alive to the music, excellent wind soloists, march to the scaffold has a slow, steady tempo and is nicely weird and sarcastic, witches' sabbath is moderate in tempo and portrays all the varied moods accurately including some humor, rank = 1

    E - first movement is detailed in its restless expression and has better sound than D, exposition is repeated, coda is appropriately solemn, waltz has lift and momentum, third movement is slow and expressively blank except for the last section where it has some sense of lonely alienation, march to the scaffold is quick and lacks anything sarcastic or sinister, witches' sabbath is fast and virtuosic, the first two movements are excellent but the last three are mostly superficial, rank = 3

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  10. #22
    Senior Member Becca's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by hustlefan View Post
    My favorite is D, followed by A, E, B, and C.


    A - first movement has a slow, lamenting introduction, main section is not vivacious, no exposition repeat, strings have some portamento, sound favors the violins, second movement waltz is moderate in speed, dignified and aristocratic, third movement flows nicely, idyllic and lyrical at first, changing to anxiety in the middle part that isn't overdone, with the last part of the movement the best - peaceful and resigned, march to the scaffold is straightforward without exaggeration, the oddities and originality of the score are not emphasized, final movement takes a slow tempo, interesting in its clarity but everything should be more feverish and volatile, bells oddly include a piano, overall the interpretation is dignified and clear but it's too slow and lacks emotional intensity, rank = 2

    B - violins throughout the first movement are volatile and quickly changing in dynamics as indicated in the score, exposition is repeated, tempo is standard and so is the rest of the movement with nothing showing special insight or commitment, waltz is quick, slow movement has a gorgeous-sounding orchestra but expressive specificity is lacking, march to the scaffold is fast as is usual, exposition is repeated, coda is the best part, witches' sabbath is fast, overall the interpretation emphasizes orchestral virtuosity at the cost of emotional expressivity or musical insight, rank = 4

    C - resonant sound aims for sensuality, conductor does not keep the same tempo for more than a few bars, emotionally undisciplined and unrestrained, odd melodic lines emphasized, exposition not repeated, coda is slow and solemn, waltz theme is carefully and accurately phrased, expressive possibilities are explored with a slower-than-usual tempo, unorthodox and interesting to hear once, third movement starts out fast and lacks melancholy but the middle section is slow and expressive, tempos are all over the place and are not integrated, march to the scaffold is not too fast but mood is too cheerful and lacks anything sinister, last movement is appropriately weird and spooky, bells at first include cymbals, the interpretation is too unrestrained and is interesting to hear once but not more than that, rank = 5

    D - first movement introduction and first section are intense and volatile, no exposition repeat, development section speeds up in an expressive way, coda is not too slow, waltz has a prominent harp, theme is phrased musically with nuance and has a nice dance-like lilt to it, soulful english horn opens the third movement, tempo is slow but works well because it is expressively alive to the music, excellent wind soloists, march to the scaffold has a slow, steady tempo and is nicely weird and sarcastic, witches' sabbath is moderate in tempo and portrays all the varied moods accurately including some humor, rank = 1

    E - first movement is detailed in its restless expression and has better sound than D, exposition is repeated, coda is appropriately solemn, waltz has lift and momentum, third movement is slow and expressively blank except for the last section where it has some sense of lonely alienation, march to the scaffold is quick and lacks anything sarcastic or sinister, witches' sabbath is fast and virtuosic, the first two movements are excellent but the last three are mostly superficial, rank = 3
    While I don't completely agree with your commentary, I really like how you did it. Thank you!

  11. #23
    Senior Member amfortas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by eugeneonagain View Post
    All of them cut up and glued back together on a new sheet of paper.
    I think Berlioz even used some of the same notes as Beethoven.
    Alan

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  13. #24
    Senior Member Enthusiast's Avatar
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    I would hate to be a professional critic! For one thing, blind or not, when I “sit to decide what I think of it”, I always seem to find myself arriving at a very different view to the one I form from just listening in a relaxed way. And, then, I do agree that long pieces (whole symphonies etc.) are the best way to do this sort of blind tasting …. But listening to lots of back-to-back recordings is not easy. I do do it sometimes but then I choose the work and the order in which I play the various versions and I make sure I won’t be sitting through any that are not my cup of tea. And, after all that, I have to remember what each one felt like – which would take me more than one hearing to do.

    I know (or think I know) quite a number of SFs and there may be one of them in this batch (I haven’t checked or compared). Anyway, for what it is worth …

    A – I did enjoy some parts of this but on the whole found it a bit dull. This is a work that needs to sparkle or to crackle … and this one didn’t do either. Was it a French orchestra? Rank: joint 4.

    B – There is more life and shape to this. I enjoyed many moments (as I did with A – different moments, different qualities) and, unlike A, each movement did seem to paint the picture (or tell the story) that Berlioz claimed to be painting (or telling) – but in a polite and sane way. As it progresses I long for a little more substance to the sound and for something more special … the work dies if the performance can’t manage to deliver that. Rank: joint 4.

    C – After B it was nice to hear some emotional turbulence! I liked the slanted phrasing in introduction to the 3rd movement and the pacing later on in that movement (probably the most difficult movement to bring off). There is a lot of shaping and speed variation but the pulse is served, rather than disturbed, by this and the music retains its interest. Rank: 3.

    D – This is the one I think I know but whether or not I am right, it is the first one where I get a sense from the start that we are in the hands of a master. There is urgency and turbulence, there are many beautiful details and the music builds without having seemed slack to achieve this. Nothing in the first three movements is exaggerated but we have all the mystery, all the passion, all the yearning that we need. The third movement is masterly in the way that it seems to stand still without seeming dead or asleep before moving forward. Rank 1.

    E – Not as distinguished as D but I liked this one – a fine performance, well-paced and characterised but perhaps not very distinctive. Rank: 2.

    I really should go back and hear them again to see if I still think the same things!

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    I think Michael Steinberg puts it well:

    "From the vantage point of the end of the twentieth century, we can see fairly easily that the beginnings of a new music were to be found in two places where not every observer in 1830 would have thought to look: in the works of Beethoven and Bach. And the better we know the Fantastique, the more clearly we can sense in it the presence of Beethoven and of that classical tradition Beethoven brought to so remarkable a pass. At the same time, however deeply he was indebted to Beethoven, Berlioz strove to write "new music." He succeeded. The Fantastic symphony sounds and behaves like nothing ever heard before. Berlioz's orchestra is as new as Paganini's violin and Liszt's piano; his expressive intentions and his willingness to stop at nothing in their realization are unheard of depatures."

  16. #26
    Senior Member Becca's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Enthusiast View Post
    I would hate to be a professional critic! For one thing, blind or not, when I “sit to decide what I think of it”, I always seem to find myself arriving at a very different view to the one I form from just listening in a relaxed way. And, then, I do agree that long pieces (whole symphonies etc.) are the best way to do this sort of blind tasting …. But listening to lots of back-to-back recordings is not easy. I do do it sometimes but then I choose the work and the order in which I play the various versions and I make sure I won’t be sitting through any that are not my cup of tea. And, after all that, I have to remember what each one felt like – which would take me more than one hearing to do.
    When I do this kind of listening, I make it a point of only doing one complete version a day, with perhaps a brief sampling of parts of another to refresh my memory of particular differences. It totally baffles me how someone can listen to dozens of versions of the same work and then rank them in order! I have difficulty putting a handful into more than 2 or 3 categories!

  17. #27
    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    Right, I listened to a bit of Recording D again and I definitely know it and have it. I've only skip-listened to B & E up to now as I've had a super-busy weekend so I'll catch up on them this week. I did play a bit of recording A again this morning and it's intriguing me. This is a conductor well versed in this symphony and I like the sinister quality of the reading but it is a bit slow, even though it does build tension very well.
    Played recording C this morning and it's pretty high-octane stuff (was it recorded in a cave?). This is one of those conductors who really went for it, I'm guessing. An emotional reading and one I can imagine really liking when I play it more. Tempi all over the place. Reminds me of a certain old conductor's Beethoven symphonies (this reminded me particularly of a rather 'crude' LvB 9th that I love but others find 'unrestrained'). Orchestral ensemble a bit ropey at times so I'm guessing this aint a top-tier orchestra but that's part of its appeal. Best last movement up to now.
    I'll get to B & E this week.

  18. #28
    Senior Member Enthusiast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Becca View Post
    When I do this kind of listening, I make it a point of only doing one complete version a day, with perhaps a brief sampling of parts of another to refresh my memory of particular differences. It totally baffles me how someone can listen to dozens of versions of the same work and then rank them in order! I have difficulty putting a handful into more than 2 or 3 categories!
    One per day would be good but I am not often in a position to do that for most days over a week. I listened in two sittings but am not happy that I got close to feeling what most of them were doing.

  19. #29
    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    Listened to Recording B today and it's a bit safe and dull for me. Whilst it's very well-played it did very little for me and i couldn't relate to it. Just not enough emotional impact for a recording of SF. I'll have a listen to E tomorrow.
    Last edited by Merl; Today at 19:39.

  20. #30
    Senior Member Becca's Avatar
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    For those interested in the performances which I included, but without spoiling it for those who are still listening...
    (To read them, click on "Reply With Quote")

    A - Sir John Barbirolli / SWR Symphony (concert performance)
    B - Riccardo Muti / Chicago Symphony (concert performance)
    C - Charles Munch / Hungarian Radio Symphony (concert performance *)
    D - Sir Thomas Beecham / French Radio Orchestra (ORTF) (studio performance)
    E - Rafael Kubelik / Bavarian Radio Sympony (concert performance

    * - It appears that this performance was a pre-concert run-through that was recorded without Munch's knowledge. There was a small invited audience which probably accounts for the very reverbrant acoustic.

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