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Hermann Scherchen à Paris - Volume 1
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)

Symphony No.104 London (1795) [26.58]
Albert ROUSSEL (1869-1937)

Symphony No.4 in A Op.53 (1934) [23.10]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Symphony No.2 in D Op.36 (1801-02) [32.18]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Concerto for Flute and Harp in C K299/K297c (1778) [28.47] *
Lily Laskine (harp) and Roger Bourdin (flute)
Orchestre National de France/Hermann Scherchen
Orchestre du Théâtre des Champs-Elysées*/Hermann Scherchen
Recorded 29 October 1953 and recorded in the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, 28 October 1953 *
TAHRA TAH 526-27 [51.45 + 62.10]


The latest Scherchen release from the indefatigable Tahra team is devoted to one entire and one partial concert from successive days in October 1953. These were given in Paris with the Orchestre National de France and the Orchestre du Théâtre des Champs-Elysées and the repertoire was echt Scherchen – classical and twentieth century.

His Beethoven symphonic cycle is hardly hidden gold any longer in the CD age; it was released recently on Archipel in reasonable enough transfers. The so-called Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of London bore the burden of a number of recordings in that mid 1950s cycle and it makes for compelling contrasts to note the differences from this live Paris performance given the year before. The Paris traversal of the Second is considerably slower and weightier all round, sometimes quite dramatically so, and bears out the wisdom of the fluidity of interpretative decision making in the light of orchestral standards, hall acoustic and revision of prerequisites in the canonical repertoire. The emphases in Paris - string weight, mass, a certain oratorical grandeur – were later to be revised in London into a much more fleet and Haydnesque motion. The recording is rather raw and the strings of the orchestra, as preserved in the recording anyway, are apt to be glassy and certain sections are not in absolute control (horns especially). Despite my preference for the later commercial recording one can note that Scherchen evokes considerable and convincing charm in the Larghetto and his Scherzo at least is only slightly slower than the 1954 disc. The finale doesn’t fizz as much though. The same comments apply regarding the Haydn. Scherchen’s recordings of some of the symphonies of Haydn have also made for a very welcome restorative box in the last year or so. Intense in the opening with strong bass moulding we can note in passing that some of the balances for this live broadcast (all studio announced by the way) are slightly awry and the strings can be chilly but there’s free flowing and animated drama in the slow movement alongside unaffected grazioso. There are well times pauses in the wittily inflected Minuet, full of sportive spirit, and a fast and driving finale to finish – with divisi fiddles well delineated.

The Mozart Concerto features those two legendary French players Lily Laskine and Roger Bourdin. The former left more than one recording of her enchanting performance (she’d recently recorded it with René Le Roy and Beecham in London). This is a bracing, straightforward reading shorn of artifice but also missing something in the slow movement at least, of Beecham’s affectionate moulding of phrases. The sound is a touch clinical as well so, in addition to the pleasures of Laskine, perhaps the most revealing moments come from Bourdin who is however not quite on Le Roy’s level. The final work is one much associated with Charles Munch, Roussel’s Fourth. Scherchen certainly catches the stark and brittle writing in the first movement; the sound may be somewhat chilly once more but it catches a lot of detail – notably some fine and characterful wind soloists. The uneasy clam of the lento is finely judged are as the accelerandi throughout – Scherchen understands the sense of grave simplicity implicit in the music, the colour shifting properties that are so much a feature of the symphony. Similarly the Allegro scherzando is strongly characterised, with its broad mix of the doughty and the pesky, underpinned by its march theme. And no less so in the finale in which Scherchen takes us on an exuberant journey full of dash and drive.

Radio announcements are retained (in French of course) and the notes relate, in intelligent detail, the question of Scherchen’s concert life in France. Given that some of this is known Scherchen territory I wouldn’t necessarily issue a collective endorsement. It does still depend on repertoire. But there’s more than enough here to tempt – and there’s the Roussel as well, which is a peach.

Jonathan Woolf

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