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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Faust (1859)
Georges Noré (tenor) - Faust
Roger Rico (bass) – Mephistopheles
Roger Bourdin (baritone) - Valentin
Ernest Frank (bass) - Wagner
Huguette Saint-Arnaud (mezzo-soprano) - Siebel
Geori Boué (soprano) - Margarita
Betty Bannerman (mezzo-soprano) – Martha
Hubert Dawkes and Herbert Dawson (organists)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham
Recorded at Abbey Road from November 1947-June 1948
NAXOS 8.110117-18 [2 CDs: 136.40]



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Beecham had recorded an English language Faust in 1929 with a cast led by Heddle Nash (available on Dutton). Nearly twenty years later there came the opportunity to record with an almost all French cast (the sole exception was the fine mezzo Betty Bannerman) and his new Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. On thirty-two sides and not released until 1949 the set cost £6.18.0 – no mean financial undertaking in austerity Britain.

The first and perhaps most resonantly striking feature of the recording is the cultivated surety of the orchestral playing. Beecham sets his stamp on the Introduction to Act I with some glorious phraseology, the strings – well drilled but pliantly expressive – contouring their line with finesse and freshness. To this the famous RPO winds respond with rich character. Indeed throughout the entire recording the orchestral playing is unflaggingly excellent and of notable sonority. The cast is fine. No one scales the heights - no one plumbs the depth. Stylistically all is well. But it would be wrong to suggest that in this manifestation at least the great pre-War French school had survived intact. The main point is that they are idiomatic, that they make a convincing cast, which they do – but again in terms of vocal heft, in convincing theatricality they are somewhat lightweight. Yes, Georges Noré makes an ardent Faust if one markedly youthful in years – he doesn’t even attempt to mask his relative youth through some Gerontion impersonation. He has pliancy and vigour and power when called for (and he can float a head voice with commendable accuracy and duration) though maybe doubters will point to a certain lack of tonal variation. Roger Rico is Mephistopheles – splendid voice, sure instincts but inclined sometimes to underplay the more saturnine aspects of his role. Roger Bourdin as Valentin lives up to his reputation though maybe strains at the top; the once exotically hyphenated Geori Boué is Marguerite and an actress par excellence who puts great expressive meaning into her voice without sacrificing pitch, tone or line. She is technically secure, adept but again – these are quibbles but it’s true of the cast in general – in the final resort lacks real beauty of tone. The compensations are significant but I think the charge still stands. The smaller roles are well taken; Ernest Frank, Huguette Saint-Arnaud and Bannerman.

Technically the recording is good though several moments of intractably askew balance (choral mainly though not exclusively) have proved impossible to rectify on this excellent transfer. The Chorus is on potent form and it’s not their fault in the Church Scene if they were strongly over recorded in the first place. So whilst there is a qualified welcome for the performance – the cast simply is not on the same level of vocal eloquence as other more obviously famous ones – there are no complaints on its very welcome restoration to the catalogue. It’s no one’s first choice Faust but it’s a cohesive and stylish performance irradiated by the orchestra’s excellence and Beecham’s panache and sensitivity.

Jonathan Woolf



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