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Louis Frémaux:The Complete CBSO Recordings
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Louis Frémaux
rec. 1970-1977 WARNER CLASSICS ICON 9029588673 [12 CDs: ca 14 hrs]
By a poignant irony the death of Louis Frémaux on 20 March 2017 was announced only a few days after I had learned that Warner Classics were about to issue all his Birmingham recordings in a boxed set.
Frémaux had been retired for quite a few years, I believe – I was astonished to discover he was 95 at the time of his death – and his reputation had faded a little, perhaps because many of his recordings had been deleted. Rob Barnett has already written an obituary of Louis Frémaux and I refer readers to that for biographical information. Like Rob, I never saw Frémaux conduct in Birmingham. In those days I still lived in my native Yorkshire where I recall attending several concerts by the CBSO and Frémaux in Leeds and Halifax.
The fact that he was succeeded by the phenomenon that is Simon Rattle and also the sudden and controversial nature of his departure from the Birmingham post are factors that have, perhaps unfairly, overshadowed his achievements with the CBSO. Though Rattle is credited with taking the CBSO to the exalted level it now occupies, a great deal of the groundwork had been done by Frémaux. He conducted the orchestra far more than many principal conductors of orchestras do nowadays – his obituary in the Daily Telegraph states that it was not uncommon for him to do 70 or more concerts with them in a year. – and as these discs attest, standards were high on his watch. Among his achievements was the foundation of the CBSO Chorus in 1973 and the choir, initially trained by the baritone Gordon Clinton, was soon of a sufficiently good standard that EMI used them as well as the orchestra for recordings.
Things came to a sorry end in 1978 when a dispute arose between the musicians of the CBSO and the orchestra’s general manager, Arthur Baker. Unfortunately, Frémaux had appointed Baker as his personal manager and inevitably a serious conflict of interest arose. The events have been chronicled from a player’s perspective by Maggie Cotton, percussionist with the CBSO between 1959 and 1999. In her absorbing book, Wrong Sex, Wrong Instrument (review) she discusses the Frémaux years and it’s clear from her narrative that the relationship between orchestra and conductor, which had begun so promisingly, deteriorated towards the end of Frémaux’s tenure. Matters came to a head over the seating of a guest viola player which led to the sudden resignation of both Baker and Frémaux in March 1978; the latter had 16 months left on his contract. Efforts to effect a reconciliation at least for the remainder of the contract were fruitless. I recall reading somewhere that in later years the CBSO attempted to heal the breach by inviting Frémaux to return as a guest conductor but he would have none of it. However, Maggie Cotton says that the players were sounded out about this prospect in the 1990s and many of those who remained from the Frémaux era made it clear that they had no wish to see him return in a guest capacity. He never conducted the orchestra again though he did conduct one concert in their prestigious new home, Symphony Hall, when he led the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain in a concert there in 1995.
It’s a very sad story and, of course, while I don’t doubt the veracity of Maggie Cotton’s account I don’t know what was the conductor’s perspective on the breakdown. The tragedy is that, as these discs make clear, the relationship between Frémaux and the CBSO had been extremely fruitful. Though I didn’t see Louis Frémaux in action all that many times I well remember his recordings with the orchestra. I bought several of them as LPs and so this set brings back many memories.
As Richard Bratby points out in his useful booklet note, the CBSO had made some recordings before Frémaux joined them, but not many. The only one which readily comes to my mind is their 1966 pairing of two works by Bliss. On that occasion Frémaux’s predecessor, Hugo Rignold was on the rostrum and the results were very good (review).
Frémaux and the CBSO began their recording career together in June 1970 when they provided the accompaniment for the Birmingham-born tenor, David Hughes (1925-1972) in a selection of popular operatic arias which Hughes sang in English (CD 12). Richard Bratby describes this as “a humble start”; he also refers to Hughes as a “crossover tenor”. I must admit I’d never heard of Hughes before but from what I’ve been able to learn of him online it seems that he initially pursued a career in light music but began to sing operatic roles in the early 1960s at Glyndebourne and with Sadler’s Wells and Welsh National Opera. The items included here were issued as an album entitled the title Favourite Opera / Operetta Arias and Songs You Love (EMI TWO 319); this is the first CD issue. Frémaux was the right man for this assignment given his operatic credentials developed at the Opéra de Monte-Carlo (1956-65) and he proves an adept accompanist. I must say Hughes is something of a (pleasant) surprise. He had a big, ringing voice – accentuated by his forward positioning in the recording. However, he shows an ability to fine the voice down where necessary. In the opening Leoncavallo aria he displays an open-throated, Italianate style. The aria from La Bohème is delivered sincerely and with no lack of feeling. His account of ‘Nessun dorma’ (in English) is passionate and he brings ardour to ‘You are my heart’s delight’. You can’t really form much of a judgement about Frémaux and the CBSO; not only were these recordings made very early in their relationship but also they are rather employed as the backing group here.
The partnership’s first purely orchestral recording came in April 1971 when they set down pieces by Massenet (CD 3). I thoroughly enjoyed the sparkling account of the ballet suite, Le Cid, which is colourful and delightful. The Spanish colours and rhythms are brought out successfully in a vibrant account of Castillane. I liked the languid Andalouse and also the brio which Frémaux brings to Aragonaise. There’s some lovely woodwind work on display in Madrilene and great vitality in the concluding Navarraise. The recording of the Scènespittoresques is also a success: the flamboyance of Fête bohème is particularly delightful. The ultra-sweet Le Dernier Sommeil de la Vierge is affectionately done.
A few months later, in June 1971 pianist John Ogdon joined the team to record several pieces. One was the Litolff Scherzo (CD 5).Here the piano tone is somewhat clangy and treble-dominated but there’s no denying the brilliance of Ogdon’s playing in a dashing performance. The other results of those sessions are on CD 6. Ogdon is the soloist in a very different piece, the Ballade by Fauré. The piano sound is more pleasing, probably because the music allowed Ogdon to play in a much more relaxed vein. The sound of the violins, as recorded, is a bit too bright but this doesn’t detract from a very good performance. Ogdon is very sensitive. He teamed up with his wife, Brenda Lucas, for Saint-Saëns’ Le Carnaval desanimaux. This is most enjoyable. It’s an inventive, entertaining score and Frémaux and his forces give a good account of it. The CBSO’s double bass section raise a smile or two with their deliberately ponderous playing in L’Elephant. In Voliere I admired the agile flute playing of Anthony Moroney, the CBSO’s principal flute from 1956 to 1972. Hilary Robinson, presumably the principal cellist at the time, makes a fine job of Le Cygne. The entire ensemble comes together to bring out the gaiety of Final.
Frémaux and the orchestra were particularly busy in the studios in 1972. Their first foray, in April, was for a quintet of overtures by Offenbach (CD 12) which here appear for the first time on CD. I confess that Offenbach’s music isn’t really my ‘thing’ but I enjoyed this little collection. Orphée aux enfers gets a smiling performance and when the famous Can-Can arrives, played with élan, the music-making is more than smiling; it’s positively beaming. A highlight of La Belle Hélène is the delicious waltz. The last piece in the selection is La Vieparisienne. This receives a performance of gaiety and joie de vivre, which really made me smile. Light music all this may be, but already you can sense the CBSO playing with a French accent.
Sessions in the following month resulted in one of their most celebrated releases together: the Saint-Saëns Third Symphony (CD 5). Though my memory may be playing tricks on me after more than four decades I’m pretty sure this was one of the pieces I saw them perform live. I am absolutely certain, however, that I bought the LP when it came out, though sadly that’s long gone. I was delighted, therefore, to reacquaint myself with this recording and to remind myself just how good it is. Frémaux really had the measure of this score – apparently he and the CBSO performed it 23 times between 1972 and 1978. His account of the first movement is dashing and he ensures that the lovely big tune in the slow movement is played with unforced nobility. Here the soft organ sound is nicely integrated. The Scherzo is strongly driven while the trio section bubbles delightfully. The transition to the finale is excellent; the tension well-achieved. Christopher Robinson makes a commanding entry at the start of the last movement and this presages a terrific, exciting account of the movement. The end, with the organ sounding majestic, is highly impressive. Forty-five years later this performance still sounds very handsome. This is one of the highlights of the collection.
In June and September 1972 two important scores by John McCabe were set down (CD11). In both cases I believe these were not only the first recordings of the pieces in question but also that these may also be the only ones the works have received. The June sessions were devoted to McCabe’s Symphony No 2 (1971). In September Jill Gomez joined the CBSO for a recording of the song cycle Notturni ed alba (1970). I remember borrowing the LP of these two pieces several times from the record library but though I admired the sensuousness of the song cycle I was probably too timid in those days to make a purchase. Notturni ed alba was premiered by Frémaux and the CBSO at the 1970 Three Choirs Festival in Hereford Cathedral (not at Worcester, as stated in the booklet.) The soloist then was Sheila Armstrong, the dedicatee of the work. McCabe set four medieval Latin poems and it’s a pity that the texts and translations of these unfamiliar words aren’t in the booklet; fortunately I was able to borrow a copy. It really is an enthralling work – and performance. Jill Gomez sings the songs magnificently. The often sensuous writing suits her very well but she’s equally adept in the more biting, assertive episodes. The scoring, for a very large orchestra, is very colourful, not least in the exciting use of a substantial percussion section. Frémaux and the orchestra do a splendid job. An extract from this recording was auditioned recently in the MusicWeb International Listening Studio and we were most impressed by how vivid the engineers make the performance sound. The symphony is no less interesting and once again it’s imaginatively and resourcefully scored for a substantial orchestra. Here too McCabe deploys the percussion instruments to excellent effect. I’m still not sure I understand the symphony’s music - and, unhelpfully, the booklet has nothing whatever to say about it – but I’m sure that’s my fault. It’s a most inventive score and the present performance seems to be first rate. There are many atmospheric portions which seem rather like night music. These are sensitively played while elsewhere there’s a good deal of incisive exciting playing to admire.
The McCabe pieces represent Frémaux’s only foray into contemporary music on disc with the CBSO but he was far from indifferent to modern pieces during his time in Birmingham. The booklet mentions that he gave the UK premiere of Dutilleux’s Métaboles and that he championed Nicola LeFanu and Sir Richard Rodney Bennett. Only recently a CD of Humphrey Searle’s music has been issued which includes a broadcast from November 1971 of Labyrinth by Frémaux and the CBSO; they had given the first performance just a few days earlier (review).
The following year produced a further crop of recordings. From August 1973 comes an account of Ibert’s Divertissement (CD 8). How right Richard Bratby is to speak of the “controlled anarchy” of this piece. It opens the disc and you may be taken aback, as I was at first, by the closeness of the recording. That tends to accentuate the brash, brittle nature of the music in the opening Introduction: Allegro vivo; here the music-making is highly animated. The engineering ensures that the fast section of the following movement is a bit in the listener’s face, but that’s not entirely inappropriate. The zany waltz comes off well, as does the Vivo (Tempo di galop) in the finale, which calls to mind the Keystone Cops. In all, this is an unbuttoned romp by Frémaux and his players.
The same sessions produced a good performance of Honegger’s Pacific 231 in which powerful momentum is generated (CD 8). The team also set down two of Satie’s Gymnopédies as orchestrated by Debussy (CD 9). The first of these allows us to savour some fine woodwind playing while there’s great finesse in the performance of the companion piece. Just as enjoyable is the other offering from those sessions, Poulenc’s suite Les Biches (CD 9). I really enjoyed this. The performance brings out with equal success Poulenc’s uniquely seductive melodies and also the piquant, Stravinskian side of his music. I like the infectious gaiety that is brought to Rag-Mazurka: Presto. Best of all, perhaps, is the high energy and Gallic insouciance with which Frémaux despatches the last movement, Final: Presto. This performance is great fun
The following month brought a miscellany of shorter French pieces, all of which are included on CD 7. There’s a good performance of Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre while Chabrier’s España is colourful and vital, as it should be. I enjoyed the performance of Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune. The excellent flute soloist should have been credited. Other woodwind soloists also distinguish themselves in a recording that makes one regret that this was the only Debussy piece that Frémaux and the CBSO were invited to set down. From these sessions also comes their sole recording of a Ravel piece. Boléro showcases the entire orchestra, of course, but it’s a shame that this rather tedious piece is their only Ravel offering: it would have been nice to hear something more representative of the French master. L’Apprenti sorcier is well done, the story vividly told. The trumpets and percussion are a bit too prominently recorded here – and there’s a substantial echo after the last chord.
In April 1974 Frémaux took two Bizet scores into the studio. The delightful Symphony in C receives a fine performance (CD 5). As we noted recently in the MusicWeb International Listening Studio, the acoustic for this recording is rather reverberant but that doesn’t detract from the performance at all. The first movement has charm and zest while the slow movement is affectionately done. The Scherzo bounds along delightfully while the finale is dexterous and full of joie de vivre. This performance prompts the question we asked ourselves during the Studio session: why don’t we hear this delectable music more often? If the Symphony is heard less often than it deserves then Roma (CD 3) is even less frequently played. Frémaux makes an excellent case for it. The hunting music of the first movement is spirited while the surrounding andante passages are elegantly done. There’s some lovely and sophisticated playing in the slow movement while the finale is vivacious.
May 1974 found Frémaux and the CBSO teaming up with Paul Tortelier for Saint-Saëns’ A minor Cello Concerto (CD 4). The great cellist is on fine form here and he works extremely effectively with his conductor. The first movement is effervescent while the Allegretto con moto has admirable elegance. The impulsive performance of the finale benefits from brilliance and energy on the part of both the soloist and the orchestra. The same sessions also featured other members of the Tortelier family in several short pieces by Saint-Saëns that can be found on CD 7. Tortelier père plays Le Cygne from Le Carnaval des animaux for which he’s joined by a solitary member of the CBSO, namely harpist Robert Johnston. At that time Johnson had not long been a member of the orchestra; he joined it in 1972. He went on to serve the CBSO with distinction until his retirement as recently as 2014. The duet here is an absolute delight. Tortelier’s singing tone is simply gorgeous and the sound of the harp ravishes the ear. Paul Tortelier also plays the Allegro appassionato with the full orchestra. Nowadays we think of Tortelier’s son, Yan Pascal, first and foremost as a distinguished conductor. Here’s a reminder that he began his career as a notable violinist. He shows his virtuosity in the Caprice for violin and orchestra and also takes the lyrical solo part in the Prelude to Le Déluge for which he’s partnered by the orchestra’s strings. They’re then the partners of his sister, Maria de la Pau Tortelier in the Wedding Cake Valse-caprice. I think she’s too forwardly balanced in the recording but nonetheless she plays with flair.
In September 1974 the orchestra went to EMI’s Studio No 1, Abbey Road to record some Berlioz pieces (CD 2). These sessions are noteworthy because they represent the recording debut of the CBSO Chorus, formed the previous year. The chorus will be much more prominent elsewhere in this collection but here they make a good contribution to the Marchefunèbre pour la dernière scène d’Hamlet and to the Chasse royale et orage from Les Troyens. This was a good, solid recording debut. The other Berlioz pieces are well done. Frémaux brings out the patrician tragedy of the Hamlet piece while his reading of Le Carnaval romain is colourful and lively, The Marche troyenne is proud in tone and at the other end of the scale the Danse des sylphs is delicately done. I was a little disappointed with the opening of Chasse royale et orage where the depiction of a sultry landscape sounds a bit matter of fact.
A few months later the CBSO Chorus recorded another Berlioz work. This time they were challenged by one of the most testing items in the choral repertory, the Grande Messe desmorts (CDs 1 & 2). This was the first recording of the work that I bought and it was largely responsible for igniting my love affair with this amazing score that has lasted for over four decades. My LPs are long gone and I had not previously owned the performance on CD so I was delighted to encounter it here and to remind myself just how good it is. Since I first heard this Frémaux traversal many more recordings have come my way but as a performance this can still hold its head up high and the recording sounds well even if more modern recording techniques have produced more spectacular sonic results in recent years. Frémaux has the measure of this great score and his conducting compels consistent attention. He energises his orchestra and chorus who give him exciting results. These Birmingham forces also do very well indeed in the many sensitive episodes. As a paid-up member of the tenor’s union I hope I’m allowed to express my admiration for the tireless work of the Birmingham tenors. The chorus parts for the tenors are taxing, as I well know, but these singers never falter. Robert Tear gives a valiant account of the testing solo in the Sanctus. This is one of Frémaux’s greatest achievements on record. Not only that but it was also a considerable feather in the cap of Gordon Clinton, the choir’s founding chorus master, that he could deliver results of this quality within the CBSO Chorus’s first two years of existence.
Later that year, in August, Frémaux and the orchestra set down more Ibert (CD 8). The pieces here include the Symphonie marine – a first recording, we learn from the notes. This is a strange work but intriguing, not least in terms of its orchestration. The playing is atmospheric. The performance of Bacchanale is incisive. I must admit that a little of Ibert’s music goes quite a long way with me but Frémaux’s advocacy of the four works included here is admirable. The studio activity wasn’t quite done for 1975. In September Yan Pascal Tortelier returned to make a recording of Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole (CD 4). More than the Saint-Saëns lollipops recorded the previous year this is a reminder of the prowess of Tortelier fils as a violinist. The performance of the first movement is often big and bold but lyrical passages are played with care and refinement. The Scherzando is nimbly done and I appreciated Tortelier’s singing tone and command of line in the fourth movement. The finale is vivacious. Another Lalo recording came out of these sessions, namely the Cello Concerto in D minor (CD 4). This was another collaboration with Paul Tortelier and the first movement offers a choice example of his ardent playing. In the slow movement his playing is soulful and cantabile with delicate orchestral support.
1976 began with recordings of Poulenc (CD 9). In April Cristina Ortiz was the soloist in the delicious Piano Concerto. Here Poulenc’s trademark bitter-sweet melodic writing comes over well as does the cheeky side of his art. I enjoyed this performance very much indeed. Ortiz is excellent and her partnership with the orchestra works really well. The following month the CBSO Chorus was in action again for Poulenc’s Gloria. I’ve always regarded this as a super piece and Frémaux’s account of it is very convincing. There’s a good deal of incisive singing to admire from the choir, especially in the bouncy first two movements. Norma Burrowes is an excellent soloist. Her attractive, silvery soprano is well suited to this music. The exquisite close is managed with great sensitivity, setting the seal on a fine performance.
In September 1976 Frémaux made the first of his Walton recordings, starting with the two Façade suites (CD 10). These are well done though the acoustic in which they were recorded – the Civic Centre, Bedworth – sounds over-reverberant on this occasion. The reverberance slightly blunts the incisiveness of the playing at times although it does serve the Swiss Jodelling Song rather well. Frémaux makes the most of the sardonic swing in the tango episodes of Tango-Pasodoble and the sultry nocturnal ambience in Noche espagnole comes over well. Façade isn’t Desert Island Walton for me, though I acknowledge its cleverness, but the CBSO does it well. In the same sessions Walton’s Bach-derived ballet suite, The Wise Virgins (CD 11) was set down. In these pieces it seems to me that the string bass sound is very heavy – too heavy, frankly. Whether this is down to the recording or whether it reflected Frémaux’s intentions I don’t know. The music may not be top-drawer Walton but it’s enjoyable and, aside from the reservation about the heavy bass, the performances are good.
A couple of weeks later Frémaux and the CBSO had moved from Bedworth to Birmingham Town Hall where they linked up with the CBSO Chorus for some rather more important Walton recordings (CD 11). On the agenda was the Gloria which Walton had composed in 1961 for the 125th anniversary of the Huddersfield Choral Society. Surprisingly, the documentation doesn’t mention that this was the first recording of the work. If I’m honest, this isn’t vintage Walton, though it has its moments. One has the feeling of rather too much reliance on trademark Waltonian stylistic devices being thrown into the mix. The performance is a very good one but I don’t find the sound entirely satisfactory – remastering from the 1987 digital remastering, which I already owned, didn’t seem to have made much difference when I compared the two. One has the sense of the performers being too close and that the engineers couldn’t quite achieve an optimum balance between choir and orchestra. Nonetheless this premiere recording is very well worth hearing
The Te Deum is a very different proposition in every sense. Oddly, though it was recorded at the same sessions the engineers seem to me to have done a much better job and this is despite the fact that the forces assembled must have presented more of a challenge. Walton wrote this for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 and he threw everything into it: besides chorus and a large orchestra the score calls for a semi chorus – here nicely distanced – additional brass in the manner of Belshazzar’s Feast and an important organ part. The music is spectacular – unlike the Gloria it grabs you by the throat and never lets go – and the present performance is simply superb. The organ and extra brass register thrillingly, the semi-chorus is expertly differentiated and the main choir and orchestra are on scintillating form. Frémaux’s conducting is electrifying and I’d say this terrific performance is one of his finest Birmingham achievements
The 1953 Coronation was graced by not one but two new pieces by Walton: he also wrote Orb and Sceptre for the occasion. What a magnificent march this is and Frémaux and the CBSO give a reading of it that is full of brilliance and swagger. The noble trio tune is played with quiet dignity first time round but when it’s repeated in all its regal panoply the effect is superb, especially when the tune is reprised towards the end. The team are no less successful with Crown Imperial which Walton had penned for the 1937 Coronation of King George VI. Frémaux truly excels here and when the big tune is reprised he invests it with genuine grandeur. What a shame he made no more Walton recordings in Birmingham. He did record the First Symphony in 1990 with the Philharmonia. I’ve never heard that though I see that Rob Barnett wasn’t wholly convinced (review). Like Rob, I wonder what a CBSO/Frémaux recording of that superb symphony might have been like.
In December 1977 Frémaux led some Fauré sessions and, with the benefit of hindsight, it was good that not only the CBSO but also its Chorus were involved because these were the last recordings he was to make in Birmingham. They set down the Requiem and the lovely Cantique de Jean Racine (CD 6). I was rather disappointed with the Cantique. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it performed so swiftly. Too sluggish a tempo does this little musical jewel no favours at all but I fear that Frémaux goes too far the other way and his brisk, fairly no-nonsense way with the piece rather sacrifices the poetry. The Requiem is given in the full orchestral version of 1900. What we get, therefore, is a big scale performance but it’s none the worse for that. The choir sings well throughout. Brian Rayner Cook does well in the baritone solos, singing with clear, firm tone. As with the Poulenc Gloria, Norma Burrowes was engaged as the soprano soloist and her pure, expressive singing of the ‘Pie Jesu’ gives much pleasure. The sopranos of the CBSO Chorus make a particularly lovely contribution in the ‘In Paradisum’. This is a good performance of the Requiem.
Sadly, those Fauré sessions were to ring down the curtain on Louis Frémaux’s recording career with the CBSO. In March 1978 he left abruptly after what the CBSO described very diplomatically in a recent tribute as “a disastrous explosion of internal politics within the CBSO”. A recording of Britten’s War Requiem had been under active discussion and attempts were made to revive the project in the days after his sudden departure but to no avail. The fulfilment of that was something left to his eventual successor, Simon Rattle, whose highly regarded Birmingham recording was made in 1983.
It’s been fascinating to listen to Louis Frémaux’s complete recorded legacy with the CBSO. It encompasses just over fourteen hours of music. What is clear from these recordings is the high standards he achieved during his tenure in Birmingham. The orchestra consistently plays stylishly and expertly for him and the results are very enjoyable. It seems to me that these recordings showcase two great achievements by Frémaux. The first is that he left behind an orchestra whose standards were already high when Simon Rattle inherited the podium – apparently Rattle commented, when he conducted the CBSO in 1978, shortly after Frémaux’s departure, that he felt he was conducting “the best French orchestra in the world.” The story of the CBSO’s growth and development in the Rattle era is well known but these recordings prove that the foundations for Rattle’s work were well and truly laid by his French predecessor. The second achievement is the establishment of the CBSO Chorus. Nowadays this choir is one of the foremost choirs not just in the UK but also in Europe and furthermore it has two flourishing choirs for young singers. Yet, it’s easy to forget that this superb chorus was not established until 1973. It was very much Frémaux’s idea and I understand that he was personally involved in auditioning the founder members. The Chorus makes some sterling contributions here.
I don’t know when Louis Frémaux retired from conducting but it seems he was fit and active right to the end. I was told by someone who heard this from Madame Frémaux herself that on the morning of his death he went for a bicycle ride – at the age of 95! When he came home he retired to the lounge at her suggestion. When she took him some coffee just a few minutes later she found him dead in the chair. What a way to go!
This is a most rewarding compilation. All the recordings have been remastered in 24-bit/96kHz sound using the original master tapes. The recordings have come up very well. The booklet contains an essay in which Richard Bratby gives a useful overview of Louis Frémaux’s time and recording career in Birmingham. All the recordings are well worth your attention. If I had to select my own favourites then I would nominate, in no particular order, the Poulenc Gloria, the Walton Te Deum, McCabe’s Notturni ed alba, the Saint-Saëns and Bizet symphonies and, top of the tree, the Berlioz Grande Messe des morts.
Quinn Track listing CD 1 [71.18] Hector BERLIOZ (1803–1869) Grande Messe des morts, Op.5 H75 (beginning) CD 2 [65.22] Hector BERLIOZ Grande Messe des morts, Op.5 H75 (conclusion) [12:13]
Robert Tear (tenor) ;
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra Chorus (Gordon Clinton chorus master)
rec. 19–22, April, 1975, Great Hall, Birmingham University Le Carnaval romain, Op.9 H95 Overture [8.39] Marche funèbre pour la dernière scène d’Hamlet, H103 [7.33]
Orchestral Pieces from La Damnation de Faust, Op.24 H111
Marche hongroise [4.50]
Danse des sylphes [2.06]
Menuet des follets [5.38]
Grande Ouverture de Benvenuto Cellini, H76b [9.41] Les Troyens, Op.29 H133
Act IV No.29: Chasse royale et orage [9.06]
Act I No.11: Marche troyenne [5.25]
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra Chorus;
rec. 13–14 September 1974, Studio No.1, Abbey Road, London & 19–22.April 1975, Great Hall, Birmingham University CD 3 [73.13] Jules MASSENET 1842–1912 Le Cid Ballet suite [19:26] Scènes pittoresques (Suite No.4) [17:26] La Vierge Sacred legend: Le Dernier Sommeil de la Vierge [4.32] Georges BIZET (1838–1875) Roma [30:41]
rec. 4, 6 & 7.April 1971 (Massenet), 22–23.April 1974 (Bizet), Great Hall, Birmingham University CD 4 [80.18] Édouard LALO (1823–1892) Symphonie espagnole, Op.21 for violin and orchestra [34:09]
Cello Concerto in D minor [27:42] Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835–1921)
Cello Concerto in A minor, Op.33 [18:22]
Yan Pascal Tortelier (violin)
Paul Tortelier (cello)
rec. 29–30 May1974, De Montfort Hall, Leicester (Saint-Saëns); 23–24 September 1975, Civic Centre, Bedworth CD 5 [68.18] Georges BIZET
Symphony in C [27:10] Camille SAINT-SAËNS Symphony No.3 in C minor, Op.78 ‘Organ’ [34:10] Henry LITOLFF (1818–1891) Concerto symphonique No.4 in D minor, Op.102 Scherzo [6.44]
Christopher Robinson (organ); Frank Wibaut & Harry Jones (pianos) (Saint-Saëns)
John Ogdon piano (Litolff)
rec. 4–5.May1972 (Saint-Saëns), 22–23 April1974 (Bizet), Great Hall, Birmingham University; 17–18 June1971, De Montfort Hall, Leicester (Litolff) CD 6 [77.33] Gabriel FAURÉ (1845–1924) Requiem, Op.48 [36:32] Cantique de Jean Racine, Op.11 [4.22] Ballade, Op 19 for piano and orchestra [13.08] Camille SAINT-SAËNS Le Carnaval des animaux (The Carnival of the Animals) Grand Zoological Fantasy [23:12]
Brian Rayner Cook (baritone);
Norma Burrowes (soprano)
David Bell (organ)
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra Chorus
John Ogdon (piano) (Ballade)
Saint-Saëns: Brenda Lucas & John Ogdon (pianos); Anthony Moroney (flute);
Hilary Robinson (cello)
rec. 17–18 June1971, De Montfort Hall, Leicester; 19–20 December 1977, Great Hall, Birmingham University (Requiem & Cantique) CD 7 [77.42] Camille SAINT-SAËNS Le Cygne from Le Carnaval des animaux [2.36]
Caprice for violin and orchestra (Étude en forme de valse, Op.52 No.6 arr. E. Ysaÿe) [8.09]
Prelude to Le Déluge, Op.45 [8.16] Wedding Cake, Op.76 Valse-caprice for piano and strings in A-flat [6.48]
Allegro appassionato, Op.43 for cello and orchestra [3.53] Danse Macabre, Op.40 Symphonic Poem [6.47] Emmanuel CHABRIER (1841–1894) España Rhapsody for orchestra [6.42] Claude DEBUSSY (1862–1918) Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune [8.32] Paul DUKAS (1865–1935) L’Apprenti sorcier Symphonic poem after Goethe [10.27] Maurice RAVEL (1875–1937) Boléro [15.29]
Paul Tortelier (cello)
Robert Johnston (harp)
Yan Pascal Tortelier (violin)
Maria de la Pau Tortelier piano
rec. 17–18 September1973, Great Hall, Birmingham University; 29–30 May 1974, De Montfort Hall, Leicester (Saint-Saëns, except Danse Macabre) CD 8 [61.41] Jacques IBERT (1890–1962) Divertissement [14:26] Symphonie marine [14.07] Bacchanale [8.27] Louisville Concerto [11.26] Bostoniana [7.02] Arthur HONEGGER (1892–1955) Pacific 231 (Mouvement symphonique No.1) [6.09]
rec. 30–31 August1973 (Divertissement & Pacific 231),
20–21 August 1975, Great Hall, Birmingham University CD 9 [67.28] Francis POULENC (1899–1963) Gloria, FP 177 [23:39]
Piano Concerto, FP 146 [19:41] Les Biches, FP 36b Ballet suite [18:42] Erik SATIE (1866–1925) Gymnopédies (orch. C. Debussy)
No.1: Lent et grave [2.14]
No.3: Lent et douloureux 2.50
Norma Burrowes (soprano)
Cristina Ortiz piano
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra Chorus
(Peter James chorus master)
rec. 30–31 August 1973 (Les Biches & Satie), 11–12 May 1976 (Gloria), Great Hall, Birmingham University; 21 April 1976 (Concerto), Civic Centre, Bedworth CD 10 [67.50] Sir William WALTON (1902–1983) Façade 2 Suites for orchestra
Fanfare (Suite II: No.1) [0.32]
Scotch Rhapsody (Suite II: No.2) [1.13]
Valse (Suite I: No.2) [3.11]
Tango-Pasodoble (Suite I: No.4) [1.58]
Swiss Jodelling Song (Suite I: No.3) [2.42]
Country Dance (Suite II: No.3) [2.09]
Polka (Suite I: No.1) [1.23]
Noche espagnole (Suite II: No.4) [2.51]
Popular Song (Suite II: No.5) [2.18]
Old Sir Faulk (Suite II: No.6) [2.06]
Tarantella — Sevillana (Suite I: No.5) [2.29] Gloria [18.59] Orb and Sceptre Coronation March [6.57] Te Deum [9.29] Crown Imperial Coronation March[9.09]
Barbara Robotham (mezzo-soprano)
Anthony Rolfe Johnson (tenor)
Brian Rayner Cook (baritone)
Choristers of Worcester Cathedral
Francis Grier (organ)
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra Chorus
(Gordon Clinton chorus master)
rec. 1–2 September1976, Civic Centre, Bedworth (Façade); 18–19 September1976, Birmingham Town Hall CD 11 [64.48] Sir William WALTON based on scores by Johann Sebastian Bach The Wise Virgins Ballet suite [19:29] John McCABE (1939–2015) Notturni ed alba [21:51]
Symphony No.2 [23:10]
Jill Gomez (soprano)
rec. 27 June1972 (Symphony),
5 September1972 (Notturni ed alba), Great Hall,
1–2 September1976, Civic Centre, Bedworth (Walton) CD 12 [76.35] Ruggero LEONCAVALLO (1857–1919) Pagliacci Act I (R. Leoncavallo/English F.E. Weatherly)
To act! … On with the motley (Recitar! … Vesti la giubba) [3.52] Giacomo PUCCINI (1858–1924) La Bohème Act I (L. Illica & G. Giacosa/ English W. Grist & P. Pinkerton)
Your tiny hand is frozen (Che gelida manina) [4.26] Georges BIZET Carmen Act II (H. Meilhac & L. Halevy/English N. & J. Moody)
See how the flower (La fleur que tu m’avais jetée) [3.45] La Jolie Fille de Perth Act II (J.-H.V. de Saint-Georges & J. Adenis/English P. England)
Hear the voice (À la voix d’un amant fidele) [3.05] Giacomo PUCCINI Tosca Act III (L. Illica & G. Giacosa/English W. Beatty-Kingston)
When the stars were brightly shining (E lucevan le stelle) [2.48] Turandot Act III (G. Adami & R. Simoni/English R.H. Elkin)
None shall sleep tonight (Nessun dorma) [3.01] Arthur SULLIVAN (1842–1900) The Gondoliers Act II (W.S. Gilbert)
Take a pair of sparkling eyes [3.02] Franz LEHÁR (1870–1948) Paganini Act II (P. Knepler & B. Jenbach/English A.P. Herbert)
Girls were made to love and kiss (Gern hab’ ich die Frau’n geküßt) [3.24] Frasquita Act II (A.M. Willmer & H. Reichert/English R. Arkell)
When the moon is shining white (Hab’ ein blaues Himmelbett) [3.47] Frederica Act II (L. Herzer & F. Lohner/English A. Ross & H.S. Pepper)
O maiden, my maiden (O Mädchen, mein Mädchen) [2.42] Johann STRAUSS II (1825–1899) Eine Nacht in Venedig Act I (F. Zell & R. Genee/English E. Greenfield)
Love, I am here (Komm’ in die Gondel) [3.06] Franz LEHÁR The Land of Smiles Act II (L. Herzer & F. Lohner/English H. Graham)
You are my heart’s delight (Dein ist mein ganzes Herz!) [3.38] Jacques OFFENBACH (1819–1880) Orphée aux enfers Overture [9.38] La Grande Duchesse de Gérolstein Overture [6.50] La Belle Hélène Overture [8.58] Barbe-Bleue Overture [5.27] La Vie parisienne Overture [4.53]
David Hughes (tenor)
rec. 2, 4–5 June 1970, Birmingham Town Hall; 11–12 April1972, Festival Hall, Corby (Offenbach)
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