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Ernest CHAUSSON (1855-1899)
Symphony Op.20 (1890) [30.55]
Detroit Symphony Orchestra/Paul Paray, recorded 1956
Poème for violin and orchestra Op.25 (1896) [15.35]
Arthur Grumiaux (violin)/Orchestre des Concerts Lamoureux/Manuel Rosenthal, recorded 1966
Poème de l’amour et de la mer Op.19 (1882-1893) [28.10]
Irma Kolassi (mezzo soprano)/LPO/Louis de Froment, recorded 1955
ACCORD 476 762 5 [76.15]

Accord has consolidated a triptych of Chausson recordings from 1955-66. Two of them have achieved near classic status and one will be less well known but all three derive from the catalogues of Mercury, Philips and Decca.

The Symphony was accorded a typically resplendent Mercury recording. Taped in Detroit, successive remastering has served it well – you may well have caught it on Mercury 434 389-2MM when it was coupled with vintage Lalo from Paray and the Detroit. It had the misfortune to emerge at a time when the slightly earlier Monteux recording still held sway and just before the emergence of the 1962 Munch recording, against which the Paray was judged and found wanting. It’s true that the Munch has a degree of incisive and dramatic interplay that the Paray can’t quite summon up – but then Paray’s intentions here seem different from those of Munch. The turbulence has a refined contour that marks it out and that distinguishes it from more explicitly volatile readings.

Paray certainly doesn’t stint the repeated Wagnerianisms and he elicits finely balanced and nuanced playing from his orchestra. Listen for instance to the well judged and clearly well rehearsed wind line ascent from around 9.00 in the first movement. The strings have a good, light burnish to their tone in the second movement with Paray managing to impart tension to their great melody from 4.30 as indeed he does the strenuous Wagnerian brass peroration that climaxes the movement. The finale is judiciously paced, coalesced structurally, coherent and convincing. It doesn’t run riot – nor should it – but its Tristan inheritance is alluded to without being punishingly exposed and the sense of apt orchestral weight is palpable. Those interested in vintage Paray will find in his reading great understanding of the symphony’s structure and refreshing directness. Those wanting to explore the symphony will doubtless want to start elsewhere, given the 1956 provenance.

Coupled with the symphony is the Poème for violin and orchestra. As with the Symphony there is some residual tape hiss at very high volume but it’s not at all problematic unless you’re avidly listening out for it. The soloist is Grumiaux and that means class. His tone takes on a myriad subtle shadings and colours and the level of expressive depth is notable. More even than this, and often overlooked, is Grumiaux’s regal sense of rhythm - one that gives such lift to the music.

Probably the least well known of the three recordings is Poème de l’amour et de la mer with Greek-French mezzo Irma Kolassi. It’s the earliest of the recordings, dating from 1955 but still sounds pretty well though there’s a lack of real bloom in the strings. Kolassi was a much under appreciated mezzo, whose neglect in the French repertoire is a real loss, though Testament has restored a chanson recital disc - and not before time. There’s a melancholy expressive quality to her singing here that is very touching, the voice warm, splendidly even over the range, and resisting a certain worrying unsteadiness that could sometimes afflict her. For me this performance was the most unexpected coup.

These are well-selected classic discs then. The notes are negligible but the focus is on restoring the performances in a cohesive piece of programming. So far as I’m concerned this is mission accomplished.

Jonathan Woolf



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