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Franz von SUPPÉ (1819-1895)
Overtures
Leichte Kavallerie (‘Light Cavalry’) (1866) [7:06]
Tantalusqualen (‘The Torments of Tantalus’) (1868) [6:17]
Die Irrfahrt ums Glück (‘The Peregrination after Fortune’) (1853) [7:36]
Die Frau Meisterin (‘The Lady Mistress’) (1868) [7:02]
Ein Morgen, ein Mittag und ein Abend in Wien (‘Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna’) (1844) [7:54]
Pique Dame (‘Queen of Spades’) (1862) [7:41]
Wiener Jübel-Ouverture (‘Jubilee Overture’) (1890) [7:05]
Dichter und Bauer (‘Poet and Peasant’) (1846) [9:40]
Academy of St Martin in the Fields/Sir Neville Marriner
rec. October 1989, No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London
EMI CLASSICS ENCORE 5090292 [60:53]
Experience Classicsonline


Despite his early ambitions to become a lawyer or a chemist, Francesco Ezechiele Ermenegildo Cavaliere Suppé-Demelli changed direction and joined Vienna’s musical scene in 1840. As third conductor of the Theater in der Josefstadt he was required to conduct and compose incidental music for popular farces and folk plays. The success of Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld made him determined to cash in on the latter’s success with echt-Viennese works of his own.
 
Decca were equally keen to capitalise on the advent of commercial digital recording in the early 1980s with showpiece discs from the likes of Charles Dutoit and the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal. Many were considered ‘demonstration’ discs at the time and indeed they still sound splendid today. The Suppé collection, recorded in the marvellous acoustic of St. Eustache, Montreal, is no exception and must surely be a benchmark in this repertoire (Decca 414 408 2 – nla).
 
Four years later, in 1989, Sir Neville Marriner and the ASMF recorded a similar programme for EMI, now reissued in their budget-price Encore series. Initial comparisons between Montreal and London are easily made, as both discs kick off with the Light Cavalry overture. Timings are almost identical, at just over seven minutes, but as always that doesn’t tell the whole story. For starters the Montreal acoustic is cooler, yet more focused and detailed; the Abbey Road recording has a wider soundstage but the sound is altogether more diffuse, with tizzy treble and a somewhat splashy bass.
 
Yes, some instrumental details on the EMI disc – the rat-a- tat of the side drums and the brush of cymbals – come through more clearly than they do in the Decca recording but the overall presentation is nowhere near as crisp. Of course that isn’t enough to dismiss the ASMF account but when one hears the Gallic hauteur that Dutoit brings to this music, not to mention rhythms that really prance and strut, the London band are simply outclassed.
 
That’s not to say the Academy don’t play well because they do; it’s just that Dutoit seems to have a much tighter grip on the reins. That is certainly true of Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna, where the opening really blazes forth. And then there’s the OSM’s Guy Fouquet, whose cello playing is wonderfully wistful without being overly sentimental. (Regrettably the EMI soloist is not credited.) Marriner is slightly faster here but actually sounds more relaxed, perhaps too much so, as the dramatic tension ebbs away at times. And the ASMF are no match for the Montreal band when it comes to shade, colour and sheer charisma, although Marriner does pull off a thrilling finale.
 
Even where Dutoit is slower – his Queen of Spades takes nearly a minute longer – the music still has plenty of point and thrust, the well-drilled brass superbly blended. That said the ASMF brass are pretty heroic, too, but in the Can-Can the OSM raise their collective skirts and kick with much more vigour and verve. Curiously, Sir Neville and his players hurtle through this part of the score, sacrificing inner detail in the process. The muddy bass doesn’t help matters either.
 
Speaking of heroics the ASMF brass and bass drum are superb at the beginning of Poet and Peasant, one of those rare instances where I prefer their reading to Dutoit’s. Only the percussion-dominated climaxes spoil the effect, sounding as boomy as ever. But when those Viennese dance tunes return Marriner certainly springs them beautifully.
 
The rest of the EMI disc offers works not included in Dutoit’s collection. The Offenbach clone The Torments of Tantalus – the hero is sent to the Underworld to atone for his sins – isn’t vintage Suppé but it’s captivating at the outset and has some delightful pizzicato string playing to its credit. Perhaps it’s a little too derivative for comfort – Suppé never seemed to tire of trotting out the Can-Can – and frankly it’s not a piece I would want to hear too often.
 
The same goes for the oddly titled Peregrination after Fortune, which also has an arresting opening but is inclined to sound a little portentous when I suspect Suppé was hoping for something a little grander. The dance-like rhythms that follow seem even more incongruous than usual, the textures rather more clotted. Not the composer’s finest hour, perhaps, but then the EMI recording does the piece no favours.
 
Of the remaining items The Lady Mistress and the 1890 concert piece Jubilee Overture brim with delectable tunes, the latter full of festive clangour too. In both Marriner does well in the dance rhythms and there is some characterful string playing throughout. What a pity, then, that there’s a degree of relentlessness here, exacerbated by the generally unrefined recording.
 
I really wanted to like this disc but the uneven playing, muddled recording and even the programme put me off. Yes, one could argue that Dutoit makes it all sound too French, but his readings are unfailingly alert, full of swagger when required yet meltingly beautiful when necessary, outpointing Marriner and the ASMF at every turn. And the Decca disc offers a more enjoyable selection, including Fatinitza (a personal favourite), The Beautiful Galatea and the Jolly Robbers.
 
For all its faults the EMI recording looks to be good value at around a fiver, whereas the original Dutoit recording is now only available as part of a seven-disc set. That said, you can find used examples of the deleted Dutoit on the internet for even less. Which means the EMI disc is not just outclassed, it’s effectively out-priced as well.
 
Dan Morgan
 


 


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