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on October 11, 2003
What is it that Muti continually seems to bring something new to the table. This recording, as his performance of 'Romeo and Juliette' is filled with absolute fire, yet the juxtaposition of the clarity and tenderness that he seems to bring to every recording. 'Reveries-Passions' The string writing and how the Maestro plays with transparency and tenderness and the ferocity when needed. The wonderful playing of the brass section, especailly in the finale along with that horrendous bell and how it rings in time to an inexorable ending.
The Philadelphia Orchestra plays with such passion and virtuosity and such wonderful tone. Maestro Muti really shapes the tone and seems to be on top of that with the strings. You can feel his every movement with his hands as he conducts them.
I wish that EMI would re-release all of the PHO recordings with the Maestro.
Has anyone got his recording of Mahlers 'Titan' yet? Breathtaking. A must for everyone also! Berlioz is the early 'Mahler'to me. There are dissonances that haven't been heard before and they always resolve so beautifully. He takes us musically where no one of the period had ever gone/
The highest recommendation. Should be one of the top one hundred in a music library.
Highest recommendation, again. It's a bargain anyway and unequaled by anything else out there.
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on November 28, 2005
I purchased the Muti/Philadelphia Berlioz "Fantastique" in 1986 on the strength of reviews I read in STEREO REVIEW magazine, and am glad I did, although this is not my only Fantastique recording. Muti and the Philadelphia are very well recorded here by EMI's engineers, and the orchestra has a brilliant sheen, emphasizing the high frequencies, but not at the expense of the treble or bass ranges. Muti pushes the tempo where needed, but it is always at the service of Berlioz' fantastic, passionate music. One example is in V, the witches sabbath, which in many recordings comes off as tame and lukewarm. (Berlioz depiction of this grotesquery should be anything but lukewarm...)

I should point out my FANTASTIQUE is the earliest issue, with no discmates.

Ormandy/Phiadelphia also recorded Symphonie fantastique in 1965, available in Sony's "Essential Classics" series, and I like that recording also, along with Muti. There are other options, each different from the others, yet all excellent: Bernstein/French National Orchestra (EMI); Karajan/Berlin (DG); Markevitch/Lamoreux Orchestra (DG); Colin Davis/London Symphony (Philips); Talmi/San Diego (Naxos).
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on September 2, 2001
I LOVE this symphony - I've listened to it over and over again. And this is the finest recording I've ever heard of the Fantastique. More than any other, this recording captures the emotion of Berlioz's self-portrait symphony. You cannot help but be sucked into the story, the transition from Romantic emotionalism of the first movement to the sheer horror of the last. The gruesome power of the 5th movement is absolutely breathtaking, and this recording does the music perfect justice. And you can't beat the price!
If you like Romantic music, buy this CD!
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on April 15, 2006
Even after hearing this symphony constantly growing up, I never once found myself notably drawn in by the music. While I liked to listen to it and was impressed by its historical significance, it never struck my fancy as anything other than background music. Sure, the music itself is loaded with plenty of stuff to enjoy, but I never heard any interpretation of it that showcased it enough and really delivered some actual substance to the hype of this Romantic masterpiece.

However, this recording slams it in your face.

This is by far the most intense reading of the work to date. Dynamics are finally maximized here and Muti layers the voices of the orchestra with perfection. The brass playing is incredible throughout and when they really bring the heat in the March and the Witches' Sabbath, you will literally be set aflame. I can't imagine a better recording of these last two movements as they bring complete death and destruction here. And as one reviewer has already pointed out, Charlie Vernon delivers a performance here that you will not hear on any other recording of this work. He comes bearing many bass trombone gifts and all we can do is calmy sit back and bask in his generosity. Listening to him destroy the pedals in the March will never get old. Thank you Charlie Vernon, thank you.

As far as comparing them to other recordings goes, I much favor this to the famous Ormandy recording on Sony Classics that I just frankly find bland and rather uninspiring. I also don't understand why they split up the last movement into four tracks on that CD. Trivial yes, but it is just very annoying to me. I also prefer this Muti recording to the Davis/Concertgebouw, which is taken with a much lighter approach. However, some people like that approach better and there is nothing wrong with preferring it that way, so if you are looking for a more pastoral sound for this music, I would definitely look into the Davis recording, now a part of the Philips 50. But let's be real here kids. If you want a recording that will melt steel, look no further than this disc.

Buy immediately. Perhaps you did not hear me, but I said immediately.

(Also, it is ridiculously inexpensive.)
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on October 28, 2004
Years ago (probably in the 80's when this recording was made ), Muti and the Philadelphia Orchestra performed this work on TV. I viewed the telecast and thought it was a great performance (even on a small, non-stereo TV ). .... Since then, I have owned a few recordings of this symphony performed by other conductors and orchestras. I always ended up selling them after only playing them one time. ... When I saw that this version was available on cd and realized that it was that performance that impressed me so greatly years ago, I had high hopes that it would be a "keeper". .. And it is !! .. I have played it many times and it is one of the "definitive" recordings in my cd collection. ... I don't understand why it is not being sold at full price. Buy it now .. before they realize their error !
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on May 9, 2006
I concur with what other reviewers have said on this page: this is one of the most exciting versions of Berlioz's classics around. The Philadelphia Orchestra, whose beauty of tone is often praised, can also get whipped up to a lather by the right conductor and score, and having heard Muti in concert many times with the Orchestra, I can say he had that effect more often than did (and do) the Orchestra's other august music directors. A comparison of this performance and the fine old recording with Ormandy on Sony shows just how much more energized the players are here for Muti. The last movement has some truly hair-raising moments in it, moments in which ensemble might have slipped if a lesser body of musicians were involved.

The "Marche au supplice" fourth movement, however, shows even better what kind of performance this is. The tempo speeds up ever so slightly about halfway through; something that doesn't accord with reality, maybe--after all, a march to the scaffold would proceed with military precision--but the accelerando bespeaks a live-performance kind of rush on the part of the musicians that rarely happens in studio recording sessions. There are lovely sounds, of course, in the second-movement ball scene and the third-movement tone painting of the countryside. But let's face it: most music lovers can't wait for the last two movements, which are the real payoff in this symphony. And in this performance.

The recording, very full and lifelike, is one of the best EMI made in Philadelphia. At the price, this is clearly the best "Sinfonie Fantastique" available, and it's worth more than many (many!) full-priced recordings.
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on December 20, 2002
Riccardo Muti takes the Philadelphia Orchestra to a new level with Berlioz's thrilling Symphonie Fantastique. And believe me, this is "tres fantastique." The style of Berlioz is hit right on the head with the sensational brass and the strings are heavenly. This recording fills every facet of the piece, beginning to end. There is not much else to say about this other than: BUY IT!
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on May 3, 2005
Riccardo Muti's interpretation of Symphonie Fantastique conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra is a magical combination that produces a performance that is unbeatable. The clarity and energy that the orchestra generates under Muti's baton matches perfectly the madness of Berlioz as he purges himself of his fixation with his love for Henriette in his tone poem that he mistakenly called a symphony, to the horror of the audiences in Paris of his day but to the delight of audiences for generations to come.

At times, the performance achieves such a delicacy that when the explosions of energy come, the mastery of both Muti and the Philadelphia Orchestra cannot be questioned. The total control is always maintained, and the quality of the recording is unsurpassed. Without a doubt, this recording is the best one available and at a price that cannot be beat.
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on March 25, 2009
As a lover of Berlioz's music, I have come to appreciate the many different interpretations available on the market. One of the better is found on this release with Riccardo Muti and the Philadelphia Orchestra. I consider Muti to be an all-around fine conductor, but there is one important thing to remember about Berlioz: he can be overplayed. While Muti does do a good job, he fails to capture the rich detail of this piece and focuses a little bit too much on those crescendos, in which most orchestras overplay. This is where Sir Colin Davis has him beat. While some critics may yawn at the very thought of Davis conducting anything, his Berlioz is unmatched in my book in terms of rich detail, overall dynamics, and finally emotional output. But it's important to note that Davis impacts me more emotionally than Muti.

Muti, as I mentioned, does a fine job here and there's little to find wrong, but I feel that one could do better than this release, which is why I recommend Davis' Berlioz box set on Philips as a colorful alternative. I should also mention that Charles Munch did a great job with Berlioz as well.

It is good to buy several recordings of a particular piece and see which one you like better, because as every classical fan knows, every conductor and orchestra sounds different and has a different perspective on the music. In the end, let your own ears be the judge.
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on December 8, 2001
A very fine recording of the symphonie fantastique. And when you consider how inexpensive it is, why buy anything else? Muti does a great job of the conducting. Notice the cover art by arnold schoenberg.
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