> Un Panorama De La Musique Symphonique Française [RB]: Classical Reviews- March 2002 MusicWeb-International

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Un Panorama De La Musique Symphonique Française
Méhul; Berlioz; Lalo; Saint-Saëns; Charpentier; Roussel; Dupont; D'Indy; Franck; Rameau; Chabrier; Debussy; Rabaud; Dukas; Schmitt; Laparra; Ravel

Etienne MEHUL (1763-1817)

Le Jeune Henri - overture
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)

Menuet des Follets
Danse des Sylphes

Edouard LALO (1823-1892)

Namouna Suite I (5 movements)
Rapsodie Norvégienne

Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)

Le Rouet d'Omphale

Gustave CHARPENTIER (1860-1956)

Impressions d'Italie (extracts): A mules; Napoli

Albert ROUSSEL (1869-1937)

Symphony No. 3
Gabriel DUPONT (1878-1914)

La Farce du Cuvier

Vincent D'INDY (1851-1931)

Fervaal - Prelude Act I
Symphonie sur un chant Montagnard Français

(Jeanne-Marie Darré - piano)
César FRANCK (1822-1890)

Psyché (Le Sommeil de Psyché; Psyché enlevée par les Zéphirs; Psyché et Eros)

Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764)

Castor et Pollux (four movements)
Emmanuel CHABRIER (1841-1894)

Joyeuse Marche
Bourrée Fantasque

Gwendoline - overture
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)

Nuages; Fêtes.
Prélude à l'Après-midi d'un Faune

(Jean Boulze - flute)
Henri RABAUD (1873-1943)

La Procession Nocturne
Paul DUKAS (1865-1935)

L'Apprenti Sorcier

Florent SCHMITT (1870-1958)

Rapsodie Viennoise

Raoul LAPARRA (1876-1943)

La Habanera - prelude
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)

Rapsodie espagnole
Menuet antique

Ma Mere l'Oye (Pavane de la Belle au bois dormant; Petit Poucet; Laideronette; Les entretiens de la Belle et de la Bête; Le jardin féérique)
La Valse
Polydor recordings made 1929-1933
ADD mono
TIMPANI 4C4024 [77.41; 75.30; 73.37; 75.06]
Experience Classicsonline
Albert Wolff was born a Parisian though of Dutch parents. He graduated from the Paris Conservatoire as an accompanist. Gallant service in the French Army during the Great War was followed by three years at New York's Met conducting French repertoire. There he directed the premiere of his opera The Blue Bird. He was conductor of the Lamoureux from 1928 to 1934 and while there had an exclusive recording contract with Polydor - a reminder of this appears on the handbill facsimile on p.17 of the set booklet. From 1934 to 1940 he conducted the Pasdeloup and remained its chairman and chief conductor until his death. During the Second War he toured South America and conducted regularly at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires (1939-45).

The Lamoureux shared Parisian concert life with a number of other society based orchestras. The Lamoureux had their contractual recording ties with Polydor while the Colonne were with Odéon and the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire with Columbia. Other orchestral societies included the Pasdeloup, Poulet, Siohan and Straram. Until the election of Wolff to the Lamoureux the society had been directed largely by the Lamoureux 'dynasty', the founder Charles Lamoureux and his son-in-law, the composer-conductor, Camille Chevillard (1897-1923) then Chevillard's assistant, another composer-conductor, Paul Paray. Paray was later to achieve considerable fame through his Detroit SO recordings with Mercury. Paray, who directed the orchestra from 1923 to 1928, preceded Wolff.

Wolff conducted the premiere of Les Enfants et les Sortilèges in 1926 at the Opéra-Comique and indeed there was an overlap in orchestral personnel between the O-C and the Lamoureux. Roussel was one of Wolff's favourite composers and he directed the 1929 premiere of Roussel's Psalm LXXX. Wolff is the dedicatee of the Roussel Fourth Symphony. He was at the helm for the 1947 first performance of Poulenc's opera Les Mamelles de Tirésias. He gave local premieres of Pelléas et Mélisande at Naples, Buenos Aires, Hilversum, Stockholm, Oslo and Copenhagen.

His Polydor recordings, many of which are here in this set also included Liadov's Baba Yaga, Mussorgsky's Night on the Bare Mountain, Rimsky's Capriccio Espagnol, Franck's Symphony, Redemption and Chasseur Maudit. In the 1950s Decca recorded his Balakirev Tamara, the Bizet l'Arlésienne music, Massenet's Scènes- Pittoresques and Alsaciennes, as well as an anthology of overtures: Donna Diana, Zampa, Si j'étais roi, Pique Dame, Merry Wives of Windsor, Fra Diavolo, Cheval de Bronze, Masaniello - all with the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra.

This munificently packed set starts with the Méhul overture. This is prime Beecham territory and it would not surprise me if Beecham had heard Wolff conducting this work on one of his recces to the music libraries of Paris scouting for toothsome delicacies for his concerts. The overture has a long pastoral introduction (not unlike Beethoven's own Pastoral) and a chasseur finale which picks up speed with Rossinian abandon. Orchestral execution is fine though there is at least one watery moment from the horns. The Berlioz Menuet hiccups and flutters along while the Sylph dance goes with a halting swing. The Namouna score is not Lalo's most consistently inspired creation though the old Martinon DGG LP (which also coupled Namouna with the Rapsodie) once had me thinking otherwise. In Namouna Wolff does a charming job as he does in the first section of the Rapsodie. The best thing to do is to approach this music as the Gallic equivalent of Farnon, Coates, Haydn Wood and Montague Phillips. The rumbustious second section of the Rapsodie goes with stomp and bubble (tr 10, 00.35). The Saint-Saëns has sharply focused attention to rhythm. It is followed by two sections of a Charpentier work he later recorded complete, post-War, for Decca in LP days. It saw considerable currency on the budget Eclipse label in electronically contrived stereo. The Impressions d'Italie is diverting enough though tending to sound rather over-blown in relation to the musical ideas.

Roussel dedicated his Fourth Symphony to Wolff but, as far as I can tell, never recorded it. The splendid recording of the Third Symphony is full of vigour and disciplined playing - clean almost neo-classical, objective and not at all romantic. The allegro spirito has a memorably steady sweetness in the tone of the Lamoureux leader M. Charmy.

Dupont's La Farce du Cuvier is of the tradition of Suppé and Reznicek. It offers some tight playing for example in the shrill shudder of the violins at 1.19. D'Indy's Fervaal prelude must have been taken from a very beat-up 78. The steady rustling background is to be expected and is common throughout this set in which the transfer engineer has used minimally intrusive methods. This one suffers from a cyclical shushing beat. The piece itself is given an affectionately mesmerising character.

Jeanne-Marie Darré is well respected for her Saint-Saëns piano concertos on EMI. This is her with Wolff in 1932 in the French Mountain Song symphony. They give a highly romantic performance with a finale of good humoured rusticity sounding just a little like a cross between the finale of Vaughan Williams' A London Symphony and Falla's Tricorne. It needs and gets real engagement to make it 'speak'. Was this the first recording, I wonder? Further interest is added by a booklet photograph of the desperately attractive pianist at the piano at a Lamoureux concert - presumably from the 1930s.

Franck's Psyché excerpts take up almost 18 minutes and the birdsong and light and languid eroticism is well projected though not as successfully as Pierre Bartholomée's with Liège forces on Pathé-Marconi (EMI Classics). Of course Bartholomée did have the benefit of 1970s technology and stereo.

Well I suppose the style of Rameau on disc 3 would not be acceptable nowadays being just too legato and charm-sweet. This is Rameau as I would have expected Beecham or Goossens to do it. The Chabrier tracks have sparkle and bustle although I have heard España go with more lively rhythmic engagement than this. The 1933 Gwendoline goes superbly, benefiting from the seriousness and tension Wolff finds in the music. No doubt Wolff's success in this field was why he was the conductor of choice when it came to recording old-fashioned sparkling overture anthologies. His experience in conducting the Opéra-Comique imbues his sense of drama.

His Rabaud Procession Nocturne has a relaxed rocking motion, slowly unfolding romance and some of the atmosphere of the Siegfried Idyll - all in a softly focused dream without any hint of anxiety. The jolly little Laparra prelude is nice to have but not greatly memorable. What a pity there is no Wolff conducting Biarent or Guridi. The famous Sorcerer's Apprentice has all the mystery you would expect. The Schmitt, written in 1911, is one of his rarest pieces and bears some signs of the later La Valse of Ravel (1920). The waltz is the material out of which exuberant fantasy is made in the Caprice. If the waltz accounts for the Viennoise aspect the Caprice element must owe something to Tchaikovsky's Caprice Italien. This squares well with Parisian tastes of the time. Russian pieces (often played by the Lamoureux) were very acceptable concert companions to French works. On the other hand German novelties were not often welcomed. It is fascinating to note that Wolff conducted one of the earliest French performances of Mahler's Fourth Symphony in Paris in 1931 to receive a bewildered reception.

There are some Debussy and Ravel tracks as well. Of the two Nocturnes, Nuages has mystery and self-absorption but one misses modern recording quality. This reminded me of Jean Fournet's old Supraphon recording with the Czech PO. Fêtes is given a swift virtuoso performance - excellent. His vulnerable Prélude a l'après-midi d'un faune has a an appealing fragility. Wolff's Ravel concludes the last disc. Wolff's style must surely have helped shape that of Monteux as heard in the Ravel Philips 50 series CD I reviewed last year. I have not compared timing but Wolff seems a shade slower. He has mastered the alchemy of the deliberation he wanted but at the same time never sacrifices the illusion of forward movement. The Mère l'Oye suite goes wonderfully well with the diaphanous orchestration communicating still. In La Valse Wolff takes a different tack. Here he brings out, as never before, a certain anxious, guilty or hunted feeling.

Side joins are managed without drawing attention to themselves. Some surface is allowed to continue at the end of each piece to avoid those cliff-edge truncations so disturbingly present among the more ham-fisted transfers sometimes found elsewhere. Just one lapse I noticed - at the end of the Malagueña from Ravel's Rapsodie Espagnole where the cut off is just too abrupt.

Hiss and busy surface noise is left intact. As the notes suggest the objective of the transfer engineers was to capture the maximum amount of musical information from the seventy year old grooves. Clicks and pops have in general been 'majicked' away - although it seems a pity that the momentary cyclical scuffing at the end of La Jardin Féérique could not have been elided. Timpani achieve results comparable with those of Pearl. Admirable.

To assemble this set Timpani had to draw on both public and private collections. The metal matrices either did not exist or were not accessible to Timpani so they had to use the best issued pressings they could find. The dedicated restoration work of Jean-Pierre Bouquet has richly paid off. This set would not have existed without the sound collections and libraries of Claude Fihman, Fondation Armand Panigel, Discothèque de Radio France and René Trémine. We owe thanks to all of them and to Timpani's Stéphane Topakian.

The set was first issued in 1994. It is very well presented with a good bilingual booklet (French and idiomatic English) by Alain Pâris. Discographical details are given. For example you will find matrix numbers but as far as I can see there is no indication of the recording location(s). The exact dates of the recording sessions are not given; only the mechanical copyright year from the disc.

The card slipcase holds a double width case and a typically pleasing Gallic touch is that the box includes a 'pull' strip which when pulled transforms the inset photograph of Wolff with the Lamoureux from one where Wolff looks back at the photographer to another where his back is to us as he conducts the orchestra.

Inevitably this lovingly assembled and produced set is not likely to draw the generalist. It is for dedicated collectors with interests in the Concerts Lamoureux, Wolff, French performing practice in the 1930s, composer enthusiasts as well as Ravelians and Debussians anxious to document all versions.

Rob Barnett



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