The existence of this
Geneva radio broadcast of Dido and
Aeneas was unknown to me before
the arrival of Cascavelle’s release.
Perhaps admirers of Irma Kolassi have
been aware of it or maybe even the seemingly
indestructible (at the time of writing)
Hugues Cuénod. Still, the broadcast
was made in Geneva in 1951 and the performance
was given by members of the Suisse Romande
conducted by Pierre Capdevielle.
The brisk notes allude
to two previous British performances
on disc. The first was the 1935 Decca
directed by Clarence Raybould and the
second a 1945 Constant Lambert HMV set
though a typo has converted Joan Hammond
to John. Whether Capdevielle and his
Geneva forces were aware of them or
of the pioneering work undertaken in
baroque performance practice by Boyd
Neel and his band – the orchestra on
the Decca set – is, on the basis of
this performance, highly unlikely.
This is a mournful,
slow and very old fashioned performance
even for the day. That wouldn’t especially
concern me, as I rather like big boned
baroque performances from earlier generations.
The problem is that the concentration
on super-romanticised string moulding
comes at the expense of rhythmic direction.
It’s a very static, almost Attic performance,
as frozen as a Greek vase.
Let’s not worry about
Lambert – because back in 1935 Raybould,
under the overall direction of Herbert
Foss, had these things worked out. String
playing is lightly textured, rhythms
are relatively well pointed, the chosen
soloists have discreet, chamber sized
voices, the direction is lissom and
forward-moving. In contrast the Geneva
performance jog-trots, string weight
is Bruch-like, the harpsichord sounds
like one of Mme. Landowska’s finest
and the action remains static. The choruses
are of a piece; rather beefy and heavy.
But at least it’s a consistent view
and it’s true that does have powerful
The mezzo Irma Kolassi
is the main focus – noble, powerful
but not really the right voice for the
role. When I am laid in earth is
tremendously powerful but has an inappropriate
floridity at times – and some gushing
acompanying string figures – that paradoxically
make it seem less intense than Nancy
Evans’s lighter 1935 performance. Yvon
le Marc’Hadour is Aeneas and he’s rather
more the lover than Roy Henderson’s
bank manager – but he’s also hobbled
by the leaden direction. Hugues Cuénod
is the Spirit and briefly he brings
his inimitable high tenor to the fray.
The witches scene is rather campy-curdly
– the Decca is notably straight and
avoids embarrassment – and we do tend
to limp our way to the end via portentous
pianissimi in the Prelude for the Witches
and a very lackadiasical Come away
fellow sailors in the final Act.
There’s a degree of
distortion from time to time that proves
intermittently distracting though otherwise
the recording is very decent for the
vintage. Obviously this isn’t one for
the generalist. Maybe for Kolassi Kompletists.