Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique & Lélio at Edinburgh International Festival

Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique & Lélio at Edinburgh International Festival by David Kettle
18 August, 2015 

Five stars from The Scotsman.
★★★★★
It was the orchestra itself that first surprised: violins standing to either side of the conductor’s podium; exotic period instruments like the ophicleide and serpent peeping from the back row; four harps clustered around the conductor, their backs to the audience, for their movement in the spotlight.

But it was the playing of John Eliot Gardiner’s Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, using authentic instruments from the early 19th century, that really shook things up, in an electrifying account of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. Both coolly precise and urgent in his direction, Gardiner took his time over the work, and the acid, unblended sounds of his orchestra highlighted just how hallucinatory the symphony really is.

The ball scene was elegant with a sinister undercurrent, and Gardiner’s March to the Scaffold and Witches’ Sabbath fizzed with demonic fury.

Things got even weirder in a brilliantly theatrical account of Berlioz’s little-known Lélio, a sequel of sorts to the symphony, after the interval. Actor Peter Eyre delivered the composer’s self-pitying narration with knowingly laconic wit, and the young singers of the National Youth Choir of Scotland were on astonishingly fine form, the tenors and basses jiving and embracing in a rousing Brigands’ Song.

You couldn’t have asked for more – a thoroughly entertaining, provocative evening that also shone new light on Berlioz’s unhinged genius.

David Kettle
The Scotsman, 15 August 2015