The event looked festive on paper. Yoav Talmi, the much-respected music director from Israel, was returning after a month's absence to conduct a Berlioz program with the Dutch mezzo-soprano Jard van Nes as soloist. The concert was being recorded as part of Naxos' ongoing San Diego/Berlioz project. The orchestra is playing better than ever. Talmi has honed an exceptionally suave and flexible ensemble, and he usually leads it with equal parts finesse and passion. On this occasion, he sometimes stressed finesse at the expense of passion. That's probably preferable to the converse.
In the "Nuits d'ete", which opened the program, he invariably sustained poetic moods, transparent textures and delicate balances in support of his introspective soloist…
In the "Symphonie fantastique", after intermission, Talmi did all he could to contain the inherent Berlioz sprawl. The orchestra performed with astonishing delicacy, with gleaming pianissimo resonance, and with phrasing at once supple and subtle (the hesitations in the waltz of the second movement reinforced sophistication).
The mighty outbursts tang with ample, clean-edged power, even if the grotesquerie of the "Dies Irae" in the finale emerged a bit well mannered. Vulgarity may not be Talmi's forte. Still, he guided the movement to a properly zoning climax on his own elegant terms.