Berlioz / Symphonie Fantastique / Bernstein

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Berlioz

More Vintage Hot Stamper Pressings on Columbia

And this one comes complete with the bonus 7″ entitled “Berlioz Takes a Trip,” in which Bernstein explores the work “with musical illustrations by the New York Philharmonic.”

This work is difficult to fit onto a single LP, clocking in at around 45 minutes, which means that the mastering engineer has three options when cutting the record:

  1. Compress the dynamics,
  2. Lower the level, or
  3. Filter the deep bass.

On this side two it seems that none of those approaches were taken by the engineer who cut this record in the early ’80s — there’s plenty of bass, as well as powerful dynamics, and the levels seem fine.

How he do it? Beats me. Glad he did though.

What’s Your Theory Then?

Side one is bass shy, however. Did the engineer filter out the lower frequencies, or is it just a case of pressing variation being the culprit. Who can say?

If we had many more copies with these same stampers for side one, all with less bass, we might be able to draw a conclusion about that, one that might be highly probable but of course not provable.

The very next copy we might find with those stampers could have plenty of bass.

Then we would be forced to say that our highly probable theory had been falsified conclusively.

So much for theories.

Which is one of the main reasons we avoid them. We play the records to find out how they sound. We don’t feel the inclination to theorize about them much.

We are more inclined to the No Theory approach to finding good records, which you can read about here.

We think the audiophile community would be better served by more critical listening and less theorizing, speculating and opining.

Skeptical thinking has been key to our success from the very start, and it can be key to your success too. To understand records, you need to think about them critically in order to get very far in this devilishly difficult hobby we have chosen for ourselves.

Side Two

Side two manages to convey more of the richness we were looking for in the strings and horns. The sound is clear and open and much less nasally than side one. It’s got the bass this work needs to really move you as a listener.

At least A++ Super Hot Stamper sound. Hard to know if it could get any better considering that it’s a Columbia recording. Most Columbia pressings in our experience do not even come close to this kind of natural, RCA-like sound. Let’s face it: the average Columbia classical LP is hardly listenable.

Side One

A+ to A++ Hot Stamper sound, with a wide stage that’s clear and open. The problem is the bass; there’s just not enough of it. If you can add a click or two of bottom end you will get a lot more out of this side one than we did. It’s not too bright, certainly not for a Columbia, but it is lean.

A great Symphonie Fantastique played to perfection, on pretty quiet vinyl no less.

With Bernstein himself telling you all about it.

This is an Older Classical/Orchestral Review

Most of the older reviews you see are for records that did not go through the shootout process, the revolutionary approach to finding better sounding pressings we started developing in the early 2000s and have since turned into a veritable science.

We found the records you see in these older listings by cleaning and playing a pressing or two of the album, which we then described and priced based on how good the sound and surfaces were. (For out Hot Stamper listings, the Sonic Grades and Vinyl Playgrades are listed separately.)

We were often wrong back in those days, something we have no reason to hide. Audio equipment and record cleaning technologies have come a long way since those darker days, a subject we discuss here.

Currently, 99% (or more!) of the records we sell are cleaned, then auditioned under rigorously controlled conditions, up against a number of other pressings. We award them sonic grades, and then condition check them for surface noise.

As you may imagine, this approach requires a great deal of time, effort and skill, which is why we currently have a highly trained staff of about ten. No individual or business without the aid of such a committed group could possibly dig as deep into the sound of records as we have, and it is unlikely that anyone besides us could ever come along to do the kind of work we do.

The term “Hot Stampers” gets thrown around a lot these days, but to us it means only one thing: a record that has been through the shootout process and found to be of exceptionally high quality.

The result of our labor is the hundreds of titles seen here, every one of which is unique and guaranteed to be the best sounding copy of the album you have ever heard or you get your money back.

Further Reading

Wikipedia on Symphonie Fantastique

Symphonie Fantastique: Épisode de la vie d’un Artiste…en cinq parties (Fantastic Symphony: An Episode in the Life of an Artist, in Five Parts), Op. 14, is a Program symphony written by the French composer Hector Berlioz in 1830. It is one of the most important and representative pieces of the early Romantic period, and is still very popular with concert audiences worldwide. The first performance took place at the Paris Conservatoire in December 1830. The work was repeatedly revised between 1831 and 1845 and subsequently became a favourite in Paris.
The symphony is a piece of program music which tells the story of “an artist gifted with a lively imagination” who has “poisoned himself with opium” in the “depths of despair” because of “hopeless love.” Berlioz provided his own program notes for each movement of the work (see below). He prefaces his notes with the following instructions:[1]

The composer’s intention has been to develop various episodes in the life of an artist, in so far as they lend themselves to musical treatment. As the work cannot rely on the assistance of speech, the plan of the instrumental drama needs to be set out in advance. The following programme must therefore be considered as the spoken text of an opera, which serves to introduce musical movements and to motivate their character and expression.

There are five movements, instead of the four movements which were conventional for symphonies at the time:

Rêveries – Passions (Daydreams – Passions)

Un bal (A ball)

Scène aux champs (Scene in the Country)

Marche au supplice (March to the Scaffold)

Songe d’une nuit de sabbat (Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath)

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