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CD or Download: Pristine Classical

Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring (1912) [6:18]
Summer Night on the River (1912) [5:48]
Intermezzo and Serenade ¹ from Hassan (1920) [2:04 + 2:00]
Caprice and Elegy for Cello and Orchestra (1925) [2:52 + 4:43] ²
Prelude to Irmelin [4:17]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Carnival of the Animals (1886) [21:47] ³
Jacques IBERT (1890-1962)
Divertissement (1930) [15:21]
Paul Shure (violin)¹; Eleanor Aller (cello) ²
Victor Aller and Harry Sukman (piano) ³
The Concert Arts Orchestra/Felix Slatkin
rec. 8, 11 September 1952 (Delius); 11 April 1954 (Saint-Saëns); 23 November 1953 (Ibert)

Experience Classicsonline

Felix Slatkin recorded a Delius album back in 1952 and it reappears here, coupled with his recordings of Ibert and Saint-Saëns. It all makes for unlikely disc-fellows, that’s for sure.

His Delius reminds me of Louis Kaufman’s Delius - opulent, hyper-romantic, and fascinating, even when fascinatingly wrong. On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring is - it must be said - the most Hollywoodised version ever set down. Artful, manicured, lush, its opening answering phrases are hardly convincing. This cuckoo has had a whisky chaser. The ethos is closer to a downtown nightclub - all swoony and succulent - but it’s worth a listen for that reason alone. The limitations of this approach are shown by Summer Night on the River. At roughly the same tempo, Geoffrey Toye on a late 1920s 78 [with the New Symphony CDAX8006] and Anthony Collins [Belart 461 3582] are definably more subtle and evocative. And after Beecham’s Hassan, Slatkin’s feels rather superficial. Violinist Paul Shure sounds very studio bound in his concertante take on the Serenade - he’s accompanied by Zeppelin-sized orchestral pizzicati. For Beecham Arthur Leavins is very much a part of the orchestral fabric, blending into its viscosity. Shure was a fine player as was Eleanor Aller but the recording of the Caprice and Elegy for Cello and Orchestra is rather bullish. It avoids the dappled portamenti of the Beatrice Harrison-Eric Fenby 78 recording and establishes a far more determinist, forceful, even ‘Russian’ alternative. In the Prelude to Irmelin, Slatkin goes for succulence over sensitivity.

I’ve laboured these judgements because for all that one may consider these performances hopelessly unidiomatic, they are usefully different. Slatkin was a gifted musician and there was no Delius performance tradition in America to speak of, and his performances do at least show what West Coast musicians brought to the music.

After which it’s pretty much business as usual for Ibert and Saint-Saëns. The recorded sound is not especially warm - it’s all rather chilly - but the Carnival responds nicely to the virtuosic badinage of The Concert Arts Orchestra. I’d cite in particular the Wild Asses - virtuosic playing - the Elephant’s sawing, the delightfully dispatched Aquarium and the two piano panache of Victor Aller and Harry Sukman. The Ibert seldom goes wrong, and it doesn’t here. Gestures are big, saucy and knowing. The Viennese waltz is especially relished and sardonic élan is the order of the day, not least from the brass section who take down the strings a peg or two.

This is an XR production and all that that entails. I’ve not heard the original LPs so can’t tell to what extend graph work has enhanced or brought out sectional detail. It seems not to have been able to ameliorate the chilly acoustic. A mixed bag interpretatively - but sometimes mixed bags are worth a listen.

Jonathan Woolf




















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