The virtuosic and nine-times Juno-winning Canadian James Ehnes is centre stage in a new recording of orchestral works by Berlioz, with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Andrew Davis. This recording follows an extraordinarily rare concert in November 2014 with the same forces, in which James Ehnes played two Stradivarius, respectively a viola in the solo part of Harold en Italie – ‘symphony with a principal viola part’ in Berlioz’s words – and a violin for the solo in Rêverie et Caprice, both of which feature here.
Berlioz was never ashamed to recycle his music from one work to another, especially when the earlier work had been rejected by the public or by the composer himself. In 1834, Paganini asked Berlioz for a work in which he could display his power on a fine Stradivarius viola. Berlioz then composed the four-movement symphony Harold en Italie, incorporating passages from the Rob-Roy ouverture which he had recently rejected.
Similarly, Rêverie et Caprice was the form eventually given to an aria from the opera Benvenuto Cellini, unceremoniously booed in Paris in 1838. Berlioz transformed it into a violin solo piece three years later. It is the only piece Berlioz ever wrote for solo violin.