Liss Conducts Andriessen & Berlioz

FUG764 cover

ANDRIESSEN: Miroir de peine.* BERLIOZ: Symphonie Fantastique / *Christiane Stotijn, mezzo; Philharmonie Zuidnederland; Dmitri Liss, cond / Fuga Libera FUG764 (live: October 27-28, 2017 & April 5-6, 2019)

Russian conductor Dmitri Liss, director of the Ural Philharmonic Orchestra, here pairs an unusual work—Miroir de peine (Mirror of Pain) by Dutch composer Hendrik Andriessen—with an established classic, Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique. We all know the program behind the Symphonie; of Andriessen’s piece, not a single word is said about it in the CD booklet…nor is there a printed text or translation though it is sung! I had to go online to discover that it was written in 1923, set to a text by Henri Ghéon. Then I had to go to the LiederNet Archive to learn what the texts of the five songs are. You can discover and translate them from the original French HERE. To be honest with you, I’m not much encouraged by the fact that the titles of three of the songs are “Agony in the Garden,” “Flagellation” and “Crucifixion.” I’m not into sick religious legends myself.

The music is typical late-Romantic French style, in the same vein as Cesar Franck but without Franck’s brilliance. Our mezzo, Christiane Stotijn, has a terrible wobble and a timbre of no great distinction. Most of the interest in this piece comes from Liss’ sensitive handling of the orchestra. If he had a better singer, it might have come off better, but as it is it sounds pretty miserable to me. If you really want this piece, I advise that you get the recording by mezzo Cora Burggraaf with the Netherlands Youth String Orchestra conducted by Bas Wiegers on Challenge Classics.

But then we get the Symphonie Fantastique, and we might as well be in an entirely different world. This is an exceptional performance, brisk and taut with just the right Berliozian feel to it. Liss gets it right from start to finish; this is clearly one of the best recordings of this oft-performed masterwork I have heard. But is it better than the classic 1962 recording by Charles Munch or the more recent version by Gianandrea Noseda? No, although it comes close. One reason why it does not match Noseda’s recording is that the orchestral sound isn’t quite as clear in texture; that one has an almost 3D effect which I really enjoyed; but if you happen to pick this one up, you will not be disappointed. It’s better than most of the others, and believe me, I’ve heard a ton of Symphonie Fantastiques.

So there you have it. A very good but not super-great rendition of the Berlioz, and a sad-sounding rendition of Andriessen’s sad little orchestral song cycle.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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