The Toronto Symphony have a new CD out. It’s a couple of Berlioz works recorded under the baton of Sir Andrew Davis at Roy Thomson Hall in September 2018. The first piece is the rarely heard Fantaisie sur la Tempête de Shakespeare for which the orchestra is joined by the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. It’s an early piece inspired by one of Berlioz’ unrequited passions (like everything else by Berlioz!) and was considered daringly modern in its day. It’s said to be the first piece to introduce a harp to the symphony orchestra and it also includes piano four hands. It’s very colourful and rather brash which is territory that Sir Andrew excels in. There’s great clarity to both the singing and the playing.
The main event is the much better known Symphonie Fantastique. This performance has the same qualities as the shorter piece. It’s brah and colourful and often very loud but in Sir Andrew’s hands never becomes cacophonous. It’s probably about as good a performance of the work as one is going to get.
Good as the music making is though what struck me about this record is the fabulous sound engineering. It’s an SACD release and this time it really seems to make a difference. Back in April I opined that there was very little difference between SACD and a well recorded standard CD. I think I have to revise that judgement. On this disk the SACD layer has two clear advantages. Firstly there’s a real “presence” and sense of being in a concert hall. Walking around the room I was aware of the subtle but effective way the side and rear channels were being used. Secondly, and more impressively, was the articulation of deep bass. I don’t think the SACD has more low range extension than the CD layer but the bass instruments are tighter and more articulated. It’s very realistic. As my partner put it “It really sounds like there is a symphony orchestra in the room and reminds me of why I don’t like symphonies much”.
So, it’s good recording if you happen to want these two works. It’s a really good recording if you have the kit to showcase SACD and want to show it off.