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French Orchestral Music
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
Carmen – Suite No.1 [10:43]
Patrie – overture [12:33] *
Roma – carnaval [7:14] *
Emmanuel CHABRIER (1841-1894)
Gwendoline – Overture [9:24]
Joyeuse Marche [3:44] *
España – Rapsodie [6:05] #
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Dolly – Suite Op.56 orchestrated by Henri Rabaud [17:52]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Le Rouet d’Omphale Op.31 [9:22] *
Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Française, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra *, London Philharmonic Orchestra #/Thomas Beecham
rec. Salle Wagram, Paris 1957-59; No.1 Studio, Abbey Road, London 1957 (Saint-Saëns; Joyeuse); No.1 Studio, Abbey Road, London 1939 (España); Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London 1956 (Patrie)

This is one of Beecham’s stamping grounds and is now revivified by EMI in their GROC incarnation. Some were enshrined together on LP – Dolly, Carmen and Gwendoline shared vinyl space together. But Beecham’s industry in the recording studios was legendarily complicated and recordings could span not merely sessions but years. So some of these tracks were made with the Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Française at the Salle Wagram during the period 1957-59. Others were made in 1957 with Beecham’s RPO. And one, the only pre-War side, was that famous and stunning recording of España made with the LPO on 1939.
The Carmen Suite was recorded during June 1958. The performance is galvanizing and brilliant but has all Beecham’s characteristic wit and lightness of touch in this repertoire as well, notably in the Act II Entr’acte. There is a very brief moment of drift across the channels at 1:50 in the Prelude to Act I but whilst disconcerting it passes in a flash. In an earlier Paris session Beecham and the orchestra set down Chabrier’s rather Wagnerian Gwendoline Overture. This has all the hallmarks of a joyous Beecham performance – and real electricity. There’s tangible sentiment in the phrasing, powerful and vibrant trumpet calls, energetic wind pointing. The urgency and zest of the climax is breathtaking, with Beecham whipping up his band with inimitable fervour.
The Dolly Suite is heard in the Rabaud orchestration.  Beecham’s attention to detail is nowhere more in evidence here than in his shaping of lines, his obvious care over string part markings and the warmly balanced textures he evokes. Tenderness and gentle wit mark out this well loved reading. Saint-Saëns’s Le Rouet d’Omphale is a molten melodrama in Beecham’s hands and the rest of the programme no less intoxicating. Chabrier’s Joyeuse Marche features the RPO and in particular their charismatic wind section. It’s true that the obviously more dated 78 sound of España causes an aural jolt but the playing is famously triumphant. The Bizet twosome is once more with the RPO in recordings made in London and Paris. Patrie has always seemed to me to have to been the kind of work in which Dvorak was interested – especially in the wind writing which has a Bohemian tang.
To everything in this collection Beecham brings sensitivity, élan, warmth and dynamism. No hesitation required.
Jonathan Woolf 

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July 2022

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