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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers


Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
Le Carnaval romain (Ouverture caractéristique), Op. 9 (1844) [8.32]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Trois Nocturnes (1900): Nuages [6.56] Fêtes [5.48] Sirènes [10.05]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Pavane pour une infante défunte (orch. 1910) [5.59]
Alborada del gracioso (1905, orch. 1918) [7.18]
Cecilian Singers/James Aliferis
Minneapolis Symphony/Antal Doráti
rec. 19-20 January 1952, Northrop Auditorium, Minneapolis, USA

This is an attractive all-French programme consisting of four works that Doráti recorded with the Minneapolis Symphony in 1952. Originally issued on the Mercury label in 1953 this reissue, part of The Doráti Edition, is it seems the first European CD release of these works. All these works have been extensively recorded over the years with a considerable number of accounts in the catalogue.

The opening work Le Carnaval romain (Ouverture caractéristique) a standalone concert piece from 1844 was originally intended as a symphonic introduction to the second act of his opera Benvenuto Cellini which had failed at the Paris Opéra in 1838. In this overture it is hard to ignore the 1997 account by Sir Colin Davis with the Staatskapelle Dresden from the Lukaskirche, Dresden on RCA Victor Red Seal.

Completed in 1900 Debussy was inspired to write his Trois Nocturnes after seeing paintings by American artist James McNeill Whistler. The three Nocturnes: Nuages, Fêtes and Sirènes seem to describe Debussy’s impressions of light, colours and rhythms suggested by clouds, a vision of a festive scene and the sea. There is a gloriously atmospheric performance of this work by the Berliner Philharmoniker under Claudio Abbado recorded in 1999 in the Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin/Dahlem by Deutsche Grammophon.

Initially a piano piece from Ravel’s time as a student at the Paris Conservatoire Pavane pour une infante défunte was orchestrated in 1910. Alborada del gracioso was originally one of a set of five piano pieces Miroirs written by Ravel in 1905 and orchestrated in 1918. With its unashamed use of Spanish the work seems to depicts a clown/jester trying to warn sleeping lovers. In the Pavane I find it hard to look too far away from Pierre Monteux’s splendid 1959 Kingsway Hall, London account with the LSO on Decca. In Alborada del gracioso I have a strong admiration for the 1981 recording from the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal under Charles Dutoit from St. Eustache, Montréal on Decca.

I am rather puzzled by this release as these performances are not exceptional enough to outweigh the problems with the sound quality. I’m unsure what the original pressings were like but to my ears the transfers although listenable have a slightly unsteady signal with a rather thin sound that feels fragile. Generally I was surprised by Doráti’s chosen tempi and inconsistent dynamics however it’s the two Ravel works that come out best. Sadly there are no booklet notes with this reissue just paper inserts for the jewel case. Owing to the many excellent recordings of these works obtainable I cannot envisage anyone other than the most die-hard Antal Doráti fans wanting these rather disappointing performances.

Michael Cookson



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