BERLIOZ:  Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14.  "Love Scene" from RomČo et Juliette.
Cincinnati Symphony Orch/Paavo Jarvi, cond.
TELARC CD 80578 (F) (DDD) TT:  71:22

The good news is:

(1) The Cincinnati Symphony plays more suavely for J”rvi the Younger than ever it did for his outgoing predecessor, Jesus López-Cobos, and with more esprit.

(2) J”rvi the Younger doesn't dawdle here as he'd been heard to do, worryingly, with the Tapiola Sinfonietta on BIS.

(3) He uses Berlioz's 1845 edition with added cornets as well as trumpets, although Cincinnati's don't sound very French.

(4) He seems to have spent a lot more time digesting this music than his father, Neeme, is wont to do in Detroit (which gives the J”rvis a symphonic lock on latitudes 39:09N to 42:25N, between longitudes 83:01W to 84:31W). There are a couple of pull-ups and self-consciously expressive exaggerations, plus an ending that doesn't quite knock you off your seat. In the waltz movement Paavo takes 6:18, which is roughly a third of a minute slower than ideal, but compensates with all manner of lovely detail. He takes the essential first movement repeat, but not that weird repetition Berlioz asked for in the purely pictorial "March to the Scaffold" (where J”rvi prolongs the last note of the Beloved's theme a fraction too long, verging on comic effect). Most affectingly, with cooperation from a solo oboist and English horn who remain undeservingly anonymous, he makes a fascinating tone poem of the frequently interminable "Scenes in the Fields" in so many other recordings—and there must be, by now, more than a hundred (although Schwann Opus 12 has deleted a saddening number of once-revered versions).

(5) The Love Scene from Romeo and Juliet is caressed like a show cat (such as the one in those commercials with Lauren Bacall's classy voice-over)—very tenderly, both overall and in detail. It made me want to hear the entire score under the younger J”rvi, with an orchestra that promises to blossom under his administration. Considering that this Berlioz was recorded just a week after Lopez-Cóbos' turgid Shostakovich First and Fifteenth Symphonies—at the beginning of the season before J”rvi's tenure starts officially, in September 2001—the omens are propitious indeed.

(6) Produced by Robert Woods himself, the recording is back on Telarc's fast track—the world's best in the early years of CD, when the average product from Europe sounded shrill and bodiless.

It's hard to believe this is the same orchestra playing in the same hall that sounded so disspirited in Shostakovich. It also reminded me that my favorite Fantastique, with one demurrer, was Lorin Maazel's with the Cleveland Orchestra, also on Telarc—a performance on par with his unbettered Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet for Decca (and a magical Daphnis et Chloé I hope to hear again, on CD, remastered, before shuffling off this mortal coil). What kept that Fantastique from being my all-time favorite was a decision to omit the first-movement repeat, which has considerable new material leading back to the exposition. Telarc learned a valuable lesson in the interim.

(7) I'm keeping it.

R.D. (Aug. 2002)