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Compilation: La Belle France (Telarc Sampler)
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869) ‘Villanelle’ from Les Nuits d’Eté [2:16]; Elly Ameling/Robert Shaw/Atlanta Symphony Orchestra; Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918) Arabesque No 1 [4:13] and La fille de cheveux de lin [2:18] Yolanda Kondonassis (harp) Clair de lune [4:56] John O’Connor (piano); Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924) Pavane [5:41] Leonard Slatkin/Saint Louis Orchestra Pie Jesu [3:39] and Sanctus [3:29]from Requiem Judith Blegen (soprano) Robert Shaw Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus; Prelude [6:25] and Sicilienne [4:11] from Pelléas et Mélisande/ Robert Shaw/Atlanta Symphony Orchestra; Francis POULENC (1899-1963) Salut, Dame Sainte [2:21]; and Seigneur, je vous en prie [1:19]; from Four Short Prayers of Saint Francis Christopher Cock (tenor) Robert Shaw/Robert Shaw Festival Singers; Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937) Pavane pour une infante défunte [6:01] Paavo Järvi/Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra; Allegro Moderato from Quartet in F [8:40] Cleveland Quartet; Eric SATIE (1866-1869) Gymnopédies Nos 1 [2:46] and 3 [3:18]
Leonard Slatkin/Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra
(rec: Berlioz and Faure (Pelléas…) in Symphony Hall Atlanta in March and May 1985; Debussy Clair de lune in Recital Hall, Purchase, NY May 1992; the Arabesque at the Masonic Auditorium in Cleveland, Ohio in November 1992; Fauré Pavane in Symphony Hall Atlanta, Georgia in May 1982 and the Requiem in Symphony Hall Atlanta in November 1985 and May 1986; Ravel (Pavane) in Music Hall, Cincinnati Feb and Sept 2003; and Quartet in First Evangelical Lutheran Church, Lyons NY in Oct 1985; Poulenc in Church of St Pierre, Gramat, France in July 1989)
TELARC CD-80653 [62:35]


This compilation will be self-recommending according to the desirability of the content list as in the header above. It is of course a ‘pop’ classics compilation; quite unadventurous apart from the Poulenc (see comments below) so I will concentrate first on a general grouse about such compilations. Telarc tell me that this compilation is being marketed at mid-price similar to another compilation album, ‘Bella Tuscany’ that Telarc released last year. As such, of course, these tracks are reissues. At mid-price one would expect much better documentation than this meagre six-pager that cheekily uses four of its pages to promote the eight Telarc albums from which these excerpts are derived and the ‘Bella Tuscany’ compilation. When will the record companies begin to realise that they have the opportunity to create loyalty and repeated purchases from newcomers to classical music who presumably are the target audience for albums such as this? Surely the provision of some facts about the background of the music and composers would be of more value to this market. In these days when classical music seems to be an endangered species surely this is an argument that should not be ignored?

Gripe over. To the excerpts. The first thing to emphasise is the excellent sound quality. Telarc are renowned for their sound engineering. I was impressed by: Yolanda Kondonassis’s beautifully limpid reading of Debussy’s Arabesque, the golden-voiced Ely Ameling’s gorgeously shaped ‘Villanelle’ from Berlioz’s Les Nuits d’Eté; the heart-felt poignancy of Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante défunte in Paavo Järvi’s reading, the glowing intensity of the Cleveland Quartet’s realisation of the Allegro Moderato movement from Ravel’s String Quartet in F and an exquisite ‘Sanctus’ (Fauré Requiem) from Robert Shaw’s forces But Slatkin is rather too deliberate in Satie’s Gymnopédies for my taste and some Fauré enthusiasts might find Shaw’s Pelléas interpretations a tad too shadowy and melancholy.

It is left to the music of Francis Poulenc to provide the most adventurous selections. This is a capella singing of a high order even if this is not very inspired, rather imitative Poulenc. Poulenc’s biographer, Benjamin Ivry, has commented that the composer wrote this work in 1948 from a sense of duty – the idea having been suggested by Poulenc’s great-nephew Roger who was a monk at Champfleury.

Generally, sterling performances in very good sound of well-known French classics.

Ian Lace

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