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Édouard LALO (1823-1892):
Cello Concerto in D Minor (1876) [25:57]
Symphony in G Minor (1886) [26:17]
Namouna, Music from the Ballet (1881) [21:24]
(Prélude (Andante) [5:29]; Sérénade (Allegro) [1:37]; Pas des cymbals (Moderato) [2:58]; Danses marocaines (Vivace) [2:29]; Dolce far niente (Allegretto) [5:09]; Fête foraine (Presto-Danse) [3:15])
Torleif Thedéen (cello) (Concerto)                                            
Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra/Kees Bakels
rec. Dewan Filharmonik PETRONAS Hall, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, November 2002 (Concerto, Namouna); and December 2001 (Symphony)
BIS BIS-CD-1296 [74:51]

This disc was of interest to me for two reasons. One was the choice of works recorded and the other was that it marked my first acquaintance with the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra. On both counts the disc comes out well.
Lalo is usually known as the composer of one or two works: the eternally appearing Symphonie Espagnole and to a lesser degree, the Cello Concerto that appears here. Actually he wrote more than fifty works in almost every form and the Overture to Le Roi d’Ys and Scherzo for Orchestra used to also be in wide currency. Now his exposure is limited to these one or two pieces. What is even more impressive about Lalo is that almost all of his orchestral and stage works date from after the Franco-Prussian War, when he was almost fifty.
The Cello Concerto is the only one of his pieces besides the Symphonie Espagnole that is still current. It has had many recordings, including excellent ones by Navarra and Fournier. The soloist here, Torleif Thedéen, excels in the lyrical center of the first movement, and he ably handles some difficult passagework later in the movement. Those who have heard his recording of the Dvořák concerto with this same orchestra and conductor, will encounter much the same combination of lyricism and rhythmic precision as here. In the second movement Theden seemed to lose some of his intensity and the orchestra followed suit. Everyone was back on song for the last movement, which is powerfully done.
Unlike the Cello Concerto, the ballet Namouna has not had that many adherents. Most notable recently has been Yondani Butt with the RPO. Lalo made three suites (also known as Rhapsodies) and a Rhapsodie de Concert for violin and orchestra for Sarasate from the material. Yondani Butt recorded the first two suites, but the excerpts here are drawn from the entirety of the original score. It was in the Prélude that the Malaysian Philharmonic made their first good impression - the lower strings especially played marvelously. Though I felt the conductor’s tempi were too slow in the Sérénade and Pas des cymbals, the orchestra itself did not disappoint. With the Danses marocaines and the Dolce far niente I had no arguments - Bakels had the orchestra playing with that rhythmic intensity that is characteristic of Lalo. It all came together in the grande finale - Fête foraine - with Bakels driving the orchestra to a thrilling conclusion.
Lalo’s Symphony dates from 1886 and is an exact contemporary of the Franck Symphony and the Saint-Saëns Third. Unfortunately, it has not been as popular as either of these. Sir Thomas Beecham was a great advocate of this symphony, but since his time it has been left to Yondani Butt and now Kees Bakels. Bakels produces a serious but driven rendition. The phrasing and tempi in the exposition might appear slow but he ably presents the material and sets the tone, aided by some incisive playing by the woodwinds. The seriousness and slow pace of the development section might appear questionable, but Bakels is saving the intensity for a beautiful and well-measured recapitulation and coda. The second movement is a scherzo and here Bakels seems a little plodding, not providing enough contrast to the trio section which he conducts as a mysterious interlude before the return of the scherzo material, and again featuring beautiful playing by the woodwinds. Bakels shows his poetic side in the adagio, which I found more moving than Butt’s rendition of the same movement. The last movement of the Symphony is frequently considered the weakest, but Bakels makes it quite exciting, although he cannot hide the perfunctory use of material from the first movement.
While the Malaysian Philharmonic plays very excitingly for an orchestra created in 1998, they still have to work out questions of ensemble.  Some of the wind instruments can sound quite scrappy. Another problem is the hall they play in - the Dewan Filharmonik PETRONAS Hall - in Kuala Lumpur. This lies between the two Petronas towers and is presumably funded by the oil giant. This room produces a deadening effect on the higher strings while over-amplifying the brass. Occasionally a sort of haze descends over the whole orchestra. Soft passages are often completely lost. At least, that is the impression I have derived from the discs I’ve heard. Perhaps it can be improved, but it is certainly a drawback for an orchestra that has the potential for a bright future.
Because of the hall, BIS’s recording expertise is somewhat compromised, but that is not their fault. Overall though, this is a very exciting disc of music that should be heard more often.
William Kreindler





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