The first of three “Stories in Concert” by Langrée and the CSO dealt with Hector Berlioz’ “Symphonie fantastique” Sept. 27 at Music Hall.
Judging by a show of hands, not only were there many first time CSO attendees in the audience, but many who had never heard the Berlioz symphony before.
The first half of the program dealt with musical examples from the 1830 masterwork – 19 in all – followed by a performance of the symphony after intermission. It made for a truly engrossing experience and bodes well for the series in the future.
Langrée spoke about the era in which Berlioz lived, as well as specifics of the orchestration of the work. Beethoven had just died (in1827) and his nine symphonies were the exemplar of the form. With his Ninth (choral) Symphony, Beethoven had set a course for the future, but it was Berlioz, who at age 27, broke the mold with his aptly named “Symphonie fantastique.”
Langrée spoke of Berlioz’ use of the tritone -- a triad made up of three adjacent whole tones and styled “diabolus in musica” (“the Devil in music”) -- and of the Symphony’s loosely programmatic structure, being subtitled “Episode from the life of an artist.”
He recounted how the work dealt with Berlioz’ own life, how he was at the time in love (unrequited) with Shakespearean actress Harriet Smithson, and how he wrote the “Symphonie fantastique” to try to impress her.
The musical examples were very specific and well chosen, for instance a passage in the first movement that sounded like a heart attack and the “blasphemous” “Dies Irae” in the finale.
In all, it was a marvelous explication of the work – with a performance to match – and one looks forward to other “Stories in Concert” this season.
All are Sunday matinees. The next are January 17 with The Symphony No. 1 by Brahms and March 13, with the Violin Concerto by Alban Berg.