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Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Faust - opera in five acts
Faust – Léon Beyle (tenor)
Méphistophélès – André Gresse (bass)
Valentin – Jean Noté (baritone)
Marguerite – Jeanne Campredon (soprano)
Siébel – Marguerite d’Elty (soprano)
Marthe - Jeanne Goulancourt (mezzo-soprano)
Wagner – Pierre Dupré (baritone)
Orchestra conducted by François Ruhlmann
Recorded in 1911-12
MARSTON 53007-2 [3 CDs: 62.42 + 51.22 + 65.54]
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Marston continues its exceptional series devoted to the restoration of Pathé’s acoustic opera sets with this rare Faust recorded in Paris in 1911-12. At the helm was François Ruhlmann, an increasingly able youngish conductor, whom some will recognise from his extensive studio work. He presides over a then standard Parisian text with its excision of Avant de quitter ces lieux and also Siébel’s Act Four aria.

The cast was essentially an admired Paris Opéra one. Jeanne Campredon was twenty-seven, a long serving soprano whose specialism in the French repertoire certainly did not exclude her from premiering Rosenkavalier in the French capital as late as 1927 – she was the Marschallin to Germaine Lubin’s Octavian. Rather like Campredon the Siébel, Marguerite d’Elty, toured the French provincial circuit as well as securing a base in Paris though she made fewer recordings. Jeanne Golancourt took minor roles on the Paris stage and so far as is known made no solo recordings which makes her ensemble work all the more valuable. Then of course there is the Faust of Léon Beyle who was approaching his peak at forty. A famously broad repertoire made him an admirable call for everything from Gluck to Wagner and he was assiduous in propagating new work as well taking roles in operas by Rabaud and Richepin. Oddly Faust didn’t feature much in his performances and it seems that he never sang it at all in Paris – remarkable if true. Méphistophélès is André Gresse, son of a perhaps even more famous father and the Valentin is the oldest of the cast members, Jean Noté, the most well remembered of them all and then fifty-two. Belgian-born he recorded widely and fortunately a number of his discs are currently available.

Pathé exercised then unique largesse in the number of sides it granted to these complete opera (and theatrical) recordings. There were 28 discs – 56 sides – and unlike some more hurried sets this one unfolds at a generous tempo. The Introduction for example shows immediately how natural sounding the rhythm is and arouses expectations that Ruhlmann by and large well meets. As Faust Léon Beyle has a slightly heavy sounding voice – not lacking mobility but just a touch lacking in flexibility. One of the remarkable things about these and other sets is that, despite some inherent pressing faults and a certain familiar Pathé "hollowness," the voices are very forward with no great loss of orchestral detail, albeit the band is obviously very much reduced in size. I should also point out that no galumphing supporting brass instruments detract from one’s enjoyment, as they so frequently did in pre-electrics. If they’re there they are discreet and well blended. Listen to the fine Parisian winds and the excellent strings in Viens! the concluding Act I scene between Faust and Méphistophélès.

André Gresse has his moments but his is rather monochromatic a voice though it’s much more impressive than that of the bleaty Wagner of Pierre Dupré. Theatrically Gresse doesn’t sound especially dramatic in his Act IV scene 3 Vous qui faites l’endormie. The chorus is generally well marshalled but it can get messy, as it does in Act II’s Voyez ces hardis compères. Beyle’s Salut! Demure chaste et pure is attractive though not especially ardent, quite slow but rhythmically elastic. He has a very masculine and swaggering Ce qui doit in Act IV scene 3 and throughout he’s not quite as rough toned as he could sometimes be. Campredon sounds older than twenty-seven; hers is a strong, forwardly produced voice but not ideally steady. She has a fine coloratura though, which she spins off in Il était un roi de Thulé and she shows quite a command of style.

As an appendix and a most welcome and substantial one we have a selection from Faust sung by some distinguished singers. We can hear such as Muratore, Delmas, Agussol, Landouzy, in individual arias, a real role call of style.

As with Faust these are transferred with clarity and presence. Such faults as there are in the Faust are inherent, pressing bumps, a rather hollow presence on occasion and so on. But this is a recording now getting on for its century and it bears up remarkably well in all the circumstances. Marston continues to provide first class booklets with cast details and photographs and this completes a fine restoration to the catalogues of a performance never before released, so far as I’m aware, in its entirety.

Jonathan Woolf



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