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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers


Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
Jeux d’enfants (Petite Suite) orch. Bizet (1871) [17:22]
Emmanuel CHABRIER (1841-1894)
Cotillon; orch. Chabrier and Vittorio Rieti (staged 1932) [15:30]
Johann STRAUSS II (1825-1899)
The Blue Danube Waltz, Op.314 (1867) [23:24]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Hamlet: Theatre Overture, Op.67a (1891) [7:43]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Antal Doráti
rec. Kingsway Hall and Abbey Road, London, 1937-38

The Doráti Edition delves back and forth in the conductor’s discography, presenting recordings from across the many decades of his performing life and, in this case, from the very early days. Doráti left behind some droll reminiscences of his pre-war association with Thomas Beecham, with whose LPO these 78s were made. It’s clear there was a collegiate relationship between the two men. It was in that spirit that Doráti undertook a series of recordings in the 1937-38 period of largely lighter music, and of repertoire in which there was certainly stylistic overlap with Beecham.

These early discs have not been ignored in the past – Dutton transferred Cotillon, for example – though they’re clearly less familiar to admirers of the conductor brought up on his frequently spectacularly recorded post-war LPs. Bizet’s Petite Suite was revived by the Monte Carlo Ballet Russes in the 1930s under the name Jeux d’enfants and Doráti was well placed to propagate the revival on disc. This kind of thing was meat and drink to the LPO whose Francophile conductor had been immersed in this sort of music for decades. The famous and eloquent wind principals can be savoured throughout, as can the influence of leader David McCallum, whose fiddle section responds immaculately to the charming demands of the music. His pirouetting duet in the fourth section with the cello principal is a highlight, though the resourceful playing of the brass should not be overlooked. Doráti’s agile, rhythmically alert conducting sets the seal on this performance.

Though it was recorded a year later in the same location, Kingsway Hall, Chabrier’s Cotillon sounds a lot less open in sound than the companion piece. This is a slight demerit as the music is stronger, sterner and more challenging than Bizet’s. Nevertheless the orchestra proves up to its challenges with especial kudos to the clarinet and flute principals and, once again, to those malleable strings. There is a blazing close in the Grand rond et final. The smiling side of things is represented by The Blue Danube, each scene separately tracked. This July 1937 recording was made at Abbey Road and sounds very naturally balanced as does the final item in the disc, Tchaikovsky’s theatre overture to Hamlet, a good performance but one that seems to have waited nearly three years for release – by which time War had broken out and Doráti had embarked on the next stage of his musical and personal journey.

Jonathan Woolf



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