Antonio VIVALDI (1678 – 1741)
Gloria RV 588* [28:57]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 – 1791)
Exsultate, jubilate K 165 [16:34]
Pierrette Alarie (soprano), Marie-Therese Cahn (alto)*
Ensemble Vocal de Paris*
Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire/André Jouve
rec. 18 March 1952* and 1952
No texts or translations
FORGOTTEN RECORDS FR 420 [45:33]
In the beginning of my record collecting in the early 1960s – as a member of the Concert Hall Record Club, or Musical Masterpiece Society, as it was also called – I came across a couple of records with the Canadian couple Pierrette Alarie and Leopold Simoneau. It was a Mozart LP with concert arias – two each – and four operatic duets. Recorded around 1960 it featured the noted German-British Walter Goehr as conductor. Both singers immediately became great favourites, Ms Alarie through her crystal-clear and fluent light soprano, her husband through his stylish nuanced singing, flexible technique and beautiful tone. Shortly afterwards I received a complete Carmen, recorded in Paris with French forces under Pierre-Michel Le Conte. Here my newly found favourites were joined by the Spanish mezzo-soprano Consuelo Rubio in the title role and the warm and expressive Swiss bass-baritone Heinz Rehfuss as Escamillo. Those records were among those I frequently returned to. A couple of years ago I had a 3 CD box for review with Pierrette Alarie and Leopold Simoneau, including, besides some arias and songs a historic Oedipus Rex by Stravinsky and Bach’s b minor mass (where Heinz Rehfuss also took part) the Mozart record I referred to above. The transfers were not the best but the singing just as superb as I remembered it from almost fifty years back. When the review was published I got a mail from Denis Alarie, whose father and Pierrette Alarie were cousins, and he reported that the soprano, approaching 90, was still in good health and he also had some correspondence concerning suitable further issues with the two singers. I suggested the complete Carmen, mentioning that my old LP-set was in stereo – incidentally my first – and was told that the stereo version was very rare. Just some months ago I got hold of a CD-version – in stereo! – and very happy about that I contacted Mr Alarie. He had already heard it and was satisfied with the transfer, which I also was. I then got to know that there was a new issue with Pierrette and Leopold singing Mozart arias. I was sent it for review, together with the present Vivaldi/Mozart coupling, and now I have finally found time to listen to both.
A far too long introduction to the review, maybe but it puts the issue in some perspective, I hope. Recorded in 1952 by Ducretet-Thomson the technical quality leaves something to be desired. It is a rough-and-ready sound, limited in frequency range and presented in a rather flat recording. But that is something it has in common with many issues from the same period. The early LPs were not naturally better than the 78s from a couple of years earlier. There is no disturbing distortion, as was the case with the Mozart record I mentioned above and one gets a fairly good picture of what it must have sounded like in the studio, There is no mentioning of the recording venue.
The choral singing in Gloria is straightforward and not very sophisticated but it is full of life and Vivaldi’s music is so very much alive. A present-day recording would probably have employed a smaller vocal group, singing with lighter touch and more nuances. The producer of that recording would also have hired a period instrument orchestra of modest dimensions, which had further lightened the textures of this likeable score. André Jouve was probably not a specialist in baroque practice, but it was common 50–60 years ago to play Bach and Handel and Vivaldi – insofar as he was played at all – in big band versions. My first recording of Bach’s orchestral suites Nos. 2 and 3 was with a full-size radio symphony orchestra. On the other hand my early Brandenburg concerto No 3 was much closer to today’s ideas, played by Boyd Neel and his chamber orchestra. I think we’ll have to regard the present recording as a document of a performance style long ago passé. It still has its pleasures, primarily in the solo singing. The contralto Marie-Therese Cahn is heavier than any present day singer would be in this music, but her voice is agreeable and admirably steady. When we come to Pierrette Alarie – and she is the main reason for issuing this disc – we hear truly classy singing. All the characteristics of her singing on my old LPs are there: the lightness, the clarity, the technical assurance and the beauty of tone. Maybe it’s the recording that makes her sound thinner than I have been used to, but it is a winning reading and my only regret is that she has so comparatively little to sing.
When we come to Exsultate, jubilate, written in Milan by a 17-year-old Mozart for the castrato Venanzio Rauzzini, we are in a different world altogether. Mozart was more André Jouve’s cup of tea and the music is so wonderfully crafted for the high human voice. Pierrette had her greatest successes in Mozart and in French repertoire and here she is on tremendous form. The opening aria has forward movement and brilliance and the concluding Alleluia all the dazzling fireworks one anticipates. Few singers have sounded better in this music, unless it be Mattiwilda Dobbs on another Concert Hall record from my early years. But the crowning glory of this motet is not the admittedly glorious outer movements but the short recitativo Tandem advenit, followed by the breathtakingly beautiful Tu virginum corona. Pierrette Alarie’s reading is ethereal, weightless and divine. For me the motet, and in particular this aria is more than worth the price of the disc. By all means give the Gloria a listen, keeping in mind that this is a product of a bygone era; but for a deeply satisfying musical-religious experience Tu virginum corona (You, crown of virgins) is music for the desert island – in particular in Pierrette Alarie’s rendering.