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Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)

Symphony in Ca (1855) [29'20].
Vincent d'INDY (1851-1931)

Souvenirs, Op. 62b (1906) [19'55].
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)

Don Juan, Op. 20c (1888) [17'55].
Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg/aAlain Lombard, bTheodor Guschlbauer, cJan Latham-Koenig
Rec. Palais de la musique et des congrès, Strasbourg in a1976, b1992 and c2001. [aADD/bcDDD]
From aErato 0630 12806-2, bAuvidis France V4686.
AVIE AV2067 [67'28]

Marvellous programming from Avie here. The mix of Bizet's life-affirming symphony with a tone-poem of d'Indy - why don't we hear more of his music here in the UK? - and Strauss's swashbuckler makes for an invigorating combination.

Of course there is hallowed competition around, especially in the case of the Bizet. Here, the shadow of Beecham looms large: French Radio National Symphony Orchestra on HMV. There are other good versions, too - Dutoit and ASMF/Marriner - but Lombard on his own terms projects the joie-de-vivre so necessary to this work. Right from the punchy opening there is a feeling of intense affection here, especially notable in Lombard's openness to the lyric qualities. There is a surprising amount of drama running through this performance. The slow movement flows easily and has a simply gorgeous solo oboe, while the Scherzo evokes the rustic. Cellos really dig in as they imitate drones. The highlight has to be the finale: active, almost opera buffo in ethos. It is full of fizz, in other words, and thoroughly enjoyable. The recording, from 1976, is excellently rounded yet detailed.

The d'Indy is the possible curio here. Souvenirs (subtitled, 'Poème pour orchestre') has also been recorded by James De Priest (Koch; now deleted) and the Württemberg Philharmonic on Marco Polo. It is a simply superb work. The composer dedicated it to the memory of his wife, who died the year before composition. And what a piece it is! The opening is magnificently dark; d'Indy was a master orchestrator. Perhaps a little more depth to the recording would have been useful, for this is French monumentalism at its height. There is an undercurrent of intensity throughout that Guschlbauer underlines. One might point to similarities of expression with Scriabin - the language is very perfumed - and Richard Strauss: listen around 7'40 and you might find yourself reminded of the Alpine Symphony! Personally I shall be returning to this recording many times, I am sure. Guschlbauer inspires the orchestra to great delicacy around the 13 minute mark, and the close is supremely atmospheric. Do hear this.

Any Straussian hints make a link to the Don Juan that closes the disc. Jan Latham-Koenig (an RCM graduate) is the conductor here and his interpretation opens carefully – little hint of the daredevil in the initial ascent. Another gorgeous oboe solo around 7'30 illumines the experience. Again it is the lyric side to the fore – horns simply do not swagger enough in the triumphal theme; that’s the one that later in Strauss's career gets 'remembered' in Heldenleben. There are Juans aplenty that set the pulse racing more than this one.

Lombard arrived at Strasbourg in 1972, where he stayed until 1983. Guschlbauer was Lombard's successor (from 1982). He remained until 1997.

Buy this disc primarily for the d'Indy, then. Notes are in French only and concentrate on the conductors.

Colin Clarke



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