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Daily News 2001 Feb

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"...The orchestra ended in a blaze of musical glory – a sort of summary of the season’s artistic high points – with a fantastic symphony played by some fantastic musicians...."

 

Fantastic playing ends symphony season

by Anne Herman

 

Hideous monsters, opium-induced nightmares, a beheading and dancing witches: This sounds like a Wes Craven film. More than 170 years ago, though, these characters were central to a startling orchestral work, Hector Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique.”

 

The term “fantastique” has a double meaning in Berlioz’s masterpiece. It is both a wonderful composition and the imaginative product of a fertile, obsessive mind. The symphony was the centerpiece of the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra’s final concert of the season Saturday night, appropriately titled “Finale Fantastique,” at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts. It also included works by Mozart, Chabrier and Dvorak. Internationally known horn virtuoso Hermann Baumann was the guest performer in the Mozart and Chabrier pieces. Berlioz made sure his 1830 audience knew exactly what it was listening to by writing impressive program notes for the first-of-its kind programmatic symphony. He loaded the work with bizarrely gothic and romantic ideas and emotions. Themes of drug-induced delirium, murder, loved lost and skeletons dancing at a pagan mass ensured that “Symphonie Fantastique” would be a hit from day one.

 

And the ASO wrung out every bit of passion, longing, sadness and death that Berlioz put into it. The violins began the work with a strong melody that was deepened by the woodwinds and lutes. In this first movement, “Daydreams, Passions,” the violins introduced a musical theme that runs throughout the symphony in many variations. This instrumental incarnation of the woman Berlioz fell in love with held many of the moods he went through during this unrequited love affair. Throughout, conductor Randall Craig Fleischer accented the complementary and contrasting sounds made by different instruments in combination. At some points, horns and brass underscored the strings’ melodies. And at others, their battles created a wonderful cacophony. This came into play especially in the last two movements, “March to the Scaffold” and “Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath,” which were the symphony’s wildest, most image-packed sections. The “Witches Sabbath” or mass, opened with a spooky theme, as if the violins had become musical spiders creeping along. A church bell sounded in a mockery of a Catholic mass as instruments danced wildly and chaotically. The lover’s theme was lost in the mounting sounds here as the work came to a demonically triumphant end.

 

The orchestra ended in a blaze of musical glory – a sort of summary of the season’s artistic high points – with a fantastic symphony played by some fantastic musicians.