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Darius MILHAUD (1892-1974)
Symphony No. 6 (1955) [28:31]
Symphony No. 7 (1955) [22:47]
Ouverture Méditerranéenne (1953) [5:30]
Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse/Michel Plasson
rec. Toulouse, 1990s. DDD
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 439 939-2 [57:03]

The US online retailer ArkivMusic has struck a most remarkable deal with several of the majors and not-so-majors including Sony, Universal, Ondine, Vanguard and Vox. They have been licensed to reissue, on demand, CDR versions of some 2000 discs deleted by these companies and now EMI have joined the list. The price is dropped to $14.99. The product is almost identical to the original. The cover is a colour-scanned inkjet-printed version of the original sleeve but with the ArkivMusic logo. The tracks are listed as usual on the insert at the back of the jewel case. ArkivMusic clearly produce the items on a custom basis as and when ordered.
The sound is good – presumably identical to the original. The disc is a plain jane CDR transfer with the names of the works, the playing time, the original DG disc number and the name of the orchestra but not that of Plasson.
Plasson got as far as recording Milhaud 1 and 2, and 6 and 7 but then stopped. DG-Universal reissued the disc of 1 and 2 a couple of years ago but 6 and 7 has stayed in deletion oblivion … until now. I suppose that with ArkivMusic having added this to their own custom catalogue this will doom the disc as a deleted item. Even so it makes one wonder whether ArkivMusic are having to give their sales figures to DG-Universal so that they might when sales reach a critical level produce a domestic reissue. Perhaps ArkivMusic are limited in the total number they can make. Who knows?
The Sixth Symphony is a work of warm and Mediterranean-sweet predilection. The first movement is marked Calme et Tendre. The second movement Tumultueux is given to outbursts of headlong joy - even the occasional glance towards South America. The Lent et Doux (III) returns us to the irresistible - but not quick - seductive embrace of the first movement and its warming sunlight. For the Joyeux et robuste movement Plasson takes the whole thing too deliberately. That might also be true of the second movement. Still, this at least gives the chance of taking in the mercurial flow of ideas more easily.
The Seventh Symphony is also from 1955 and is in three movements not four. Not surprisingly the mood is sparky and exuberant but again in these hands more deliberate than fleet. After that very short first movement marked Animé comes a Grave lasting 12:27. The sense it gives of threat is emphasised by stabbing and brutal dynamic thrusts through a bed of pensive writing for strings and woodwind. This is music more in step with the bleakness of so many scores of the time including the tougher elements of Milhaud's own Symphonies 4 and 8 so memorably recorded by the composer for the ORTF (reissued on Warner Apex and previously on Erato). The finale is marked Vif which turns its back - perhaps a little too easily - on the preceding Grave. It recalls the animated writing of Walter Piston with a neo-classical undertow from Stravinsky. Its peroration is superbly optimistic.
Interesting to hear, as a filler, Milhaud's little Ouverture Méditerranéenne from two years earlier. I have a tape of Barbirolli conducting this work and it seems to go with more natural élan in his hands than with Plasson. There is more pepper and dissonance in this flighty piece than you might have thought.
While the Toulouse Capitole are full of character their strings are not a luxury article - more searching than ample.
Despite some cavils this is a good way of adding three otherwise separately unavailable recordings to your collection. You should also give consideration to the splendid and inexpensive complete Milhaud symphonies box from CPO (Alun Francis). Plasson while sometimes given to languor gives fundamentally sound, informed and sympathetic performances.
Rob Barnett


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