This disc contains works by three composers: Hector Berlioz, Paul Dukas, and Modest Mussorgsky, all as conducted by Eugene Ormandy and played by the Philadelphia Orchestra.
It’s is one of those classical discs you’d find in a $5 bin in the 90s (this was released in 1990), on Sony Classical under a series called Essential Classics. You can still get copies on Discogs for $3.
But don’t be thrown by low price or, perhaps even, names you haven’t heard. This is some heady stuff, and there’s a thread through them all. See if you can spot it:
Berlioz is known for his Symphonie Fantastique: “Leonard Bernstein described the symphony as the first musical expedition into psychedelia because of its hallucinatory and dream-like nature, and because history suggests Berlioz composed at least a portion of it under the influence of opium. According to Bernstein, “Berlioz tells it like it is. You take a trip, you wind up screaming at your own funeral.” (Wiki)
Meanwhile, Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice “is a symphonic poem by the French composer Paul Dukas, completed in 1897. Subtitled “Scherzo after a ballad by Goethe”, the piece was based on Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s 1797 poem of the same name. By far the most performed and recorded of Dukas’s works, its notable appearance in the Walt Disney 1940 animated film Fantasia has led to the piece becoming widely known to audiences outside the classical concert hall.” (Wiki)
And finally, but not least, is Mussorgsky’s Night On Bald Mountain, is “also known as Night on the Bare Mountain, is a series of compositions by Modest Mussorgsky (1839–1881). Inspired by Russian literary works and legend, Mussorgsky composed a “musical picture”, St. John’s Eve on Bald Mountain… on the theme of a Witches’ Sabbath occurring on St. John’s Eve, which he completed on that very night, 23 June 1867. Together with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sadko (1867), it is one of the first tone poems by a Russian composer.” (Wiki)
So, did you guess the common thread? That’s right, the theme of these Romantic orchestral works is “…the ironically exaggerated, the macabre, the grotesque and ghostly.” (from the liner notes). Magic, emotion, and the supernatural run through these pieces, and listening to this disc top to bottom is one hell of a ride.
Next time you’re digging through the discount bins, you’d do well to not skip this one!