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William WALTON (1902-1983)
Façade - Suites 1 and 2 (1922/1926/1938) [21:03]
Charles LECOCQ (1832-1918)
Mam'zelle Angot - Suite (arr. Gordon Jacob) (1872/1943) [23:58]
Royal Opera House Orchestra, Covent Garden/Anatole Fistoulari
recording data not given
HDTT HDCD152 [45:12]
Experience Classicsonline

High Definition Tape Transfer claims to transfer its recordings from the original reel-to-reel tapes, and individually to burn each CD rather than to resort to techniques of mass-production; the sonic results, from whatever part of the process, are first-rate. Granted, it doesn't hurt to start with superior source material, and these analog recordings, from Decca's early-stereo catalogue, sounded fine from the start. I still enjoy my copy of the U.S. "London Stereo Treasury" LP (STS 15191) reissue now and again. Still, the new mastering not only sharpens the clean, pinpoint imaging, but heightens the sense of front-to-back depth. In that latter respect, this is the only CD I've heard that matches any of the "super-LPs" - mastering from the original sources, virgin vinyl, heavyweight pressings; you remember the drill; it had a brief vogue around the turn of the current century.

Nor is this program a bad way to idle away some time. Walton's Façade is a setting of verses by Dame Edith Sitwell for speaker and chamber orchestra, with the spoken texts functioning as a specifically musical element - the words have been chosen as much for their sound as for their meaning. So to play the various "backing" waltzes, polkas, and foxtrots as a purely orchestral suite - actually, a pleasing mishmash of the composer's two five-movement suites - might seem a pointless exercise. Fortunately, Walton's cheerfully cheesy takes on the popular music of the 1920s, enlivened by quirky melodic turns and the occasional harmonic surprise - not to mention the English horn solo from William Tell, in the "Country Dance" (track 6)! - stand well on their own. And HDTT's processing allows you even better to enjoy the sultry flavor of the saxophone solo in the Tango, the way Fistoulari sustains anticipation through the rests in the Waltz, and other details of scoring and interpretation.

The ballet Mam'zelle Angot was created in 1943 for American Ballet Theatre, with Leonide Massine using music from the operetta, La fille de Madame Angot, by Charles Lecocq. It's fluffier stuff than the Walton - at least if the Overture and six dances excerpted here are any indication - and Fistoulari relaxes accordingly, pointing the rhythms and drawing the orchestral sonorities with a lighter hand. Unfortunately, the solo oboe's dry, unalluring tone - also noticeable in Façade - undercuts the broad, romantic mood of the Adagio (track 17).

Given all the pains taken over the sound quality, you'd think the producers might have taken more care over the production and packaging. The "DVD case" - chosen, perhaps, because some other discs in this series are DVD-Audio - may confuse prospective buyers, or cause storage difficulties. The proofreading is poor: Fistoulari's first name is misspelled as "Antole" on both the front and back covers; Lecocq's "Tempo di Marcia" becomes the meaningless "Tempo di Marcelaia." The single-page leaflet offers a good biographical note on Walton - though it doesn't concentrate on Façade particularly - but doesn't even mention Lecocq; I got that information from the jacket of the Stereo Treasury disc. Finally, 45:12 still seems short measure for a high-end CD, sonic improvements or not.

Stephen Francis Vasta 


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