Charles Francois GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Faust Ballet Music [18:43];
Camille SAINT-SAENS (1835-1921) Le
Rouet d’Omphale [9:54];
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918) Prélude
à l’Après Midi d’un Faun [10:44];
George BIZET (1838-1875) Jeux d’Enfants
(1845-1924) Pelléas et Mélisande Suite [18:44];
Maurice RAVEL Rigaudon (Le
Tombeau de Couperin) [2:46];
(1845-1924) Pavane [7:08]
rec. Henry Wood Hall, London, 2-3 November 2011.
This CD showcases the London Symphony Orchestra in cracking form under the fine direction of Yondani Butt. The programme itself is the sort of thing that Beecham would have presented with his usual good humour, charm and flair. For the most part, Butt conducts some ravishing performances that run Beecham very close and I can’t think of a higher compliment than that. These are no mere studio run-throughs. There’s a tangible feeling that we have a conductor here who has taken an enormous amount of time thinking through his interpretations and the LSO sounds fully committed to him. It’s all very convincing.
The Faust Ballet Music is my least favourite performance here. It’s beautifully played and contains many special touches but it just doesn’t sound unbuttoned enough. I don’t think it’s an issue of the tempi, it’s just a feeling that the orchestra is on a very tight rein and although everything is superbly controlled that may be the problem - there’s some spontaneity missing. Others will react differently of course but for me this otherwise finely manicured performance could do with a bit more elasticity and sparkle.
Putting the minor issues with the Faust put to one side, I really find it difficult to make any negative comments whatsoever about the rest of the programme presented here. Le Rouet d’Omphale is something of a rarity. I first came across it many years ago as a most peculiar and inappropriate coupling for Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto on WRC (Marcus Dods and the Sinfonia of London). It’s a tuneful, enjoyable work but it also has its dark moments and Butt finds plenty of charm and drama here when required. It’s a sort of Gallic Pohjola’s Daughter, especially the way the final bars leave you hanging in midair. It’s not great music by any stretch of the imagination but well worth a hearing. Jeux d’Enfants has the kind of spontaneity that I found missing in the Gounod. The orchestra sounds a much happier bunch and the March and Galop are both splendid. Butt also makes you really sit up and pay attention to the gentler moments in the Berceuse and Duo which are wonderfully hushed and really touching. There’s some fine string playing to be heard here. The Debussy is intoxicating with fine contributions from the oboe, French horn and especially the flute. The opening bars are stunning with a spine tingling entry by the harp. The flautist should really have been named in the CD booklet - the bottom register in particular is vividly captured in the recording. The piece, as played here, is as erotic and languorous as you could wish.
Pelleas et Melisande sounds uncannily like a live performance with the frisson you only normally expect in a concert hall environment. The Prelude contains the finest playing on the CD. This is fabulous music - passionate, seductive, dramatic and wistful. We have another outstanding contribution from the flute in the Sicilienne and the suite comes to a noble, elegiac end in the tragic Molto adagio.
The programme is completed by a lively and bustling Rigaudon and Faure’s Pavane (the flute had a busy session!) both nicely presented. Nimbus should be very proud of this disc. The recording is natural with a well-rounded string tone and sonorous brass. Woodwinds are perfectly captured with very little highlighting. It was also a delight to come across a recording that has a manageable dynamic range. Pianissimo passages are audible without the loud climaxes blowing your head off. The top end does have that slightly bright digital glare to it in places but this is only noticeable in the percussion transients such as in the very opening of Faust but I’m now in nit-picking territory. This is an excellent collection of wonderfully elegant French music.
Another winner from Nimbus.