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Emmanuel CHABRIER (1841-94)
España – Rhapsody (1883) [6:30]
Overture to Gwendoline (1885) [8:36]
Fête Polonaise from Le Roi malgré lui (1887) [7:30]
Danse Slave from Le Roi malgré lui (1887) [5:04]
Suite Pastorale (1880 orch. Chabrier 1888) [15:51]
Habanera (1885 orch. Chabrier 1888) [3:37]
Bourrée fantasque (1891 orch. Mottl 1897) [6:05]
Joyeuse marche (1888) [3:32]
Édouard LALO (1823-92)
Namouna Suite No 1 (1881-2) [19:40]
Detroit Symphony Orchestra/Paul Paray
Orchestre Suisse Romande/Ernest Ansermet (Habanera)
Rec. April 1959 (Joyeuse Marche), March 1957 (Bourrée fantasque) October 1955 (Habanera), March 1958 (Namouna), November 1960 (others)
ALTO ALC1431 [77:08]

It is wonderful to have these Chabrier performances recirculated once more. At his best, Paray was a terrific conductor, nowhere better than here. (His Schumann symphonies might come as a surprise to many). His España crackles with energy and there is a marvellous kick in the rhythms, yet Paray relaxes where necessary to bring out the playful side to this evergreen score. The Gwendoline Overture is often unfairly criticised for being too Wagnerian. I think this is nonsense; we would lose an awful lot of fine French music if everything influenced by Wagner were to be banished. Even more exciting and characterful than Beecham's celebrated account, Paray's performance, shooting off like a greyhound, has infectious panache and tension, but also expands for the lyrical passages.

The joyful two dances from Le Roi malgré lui are magnificently done. When Chabrier is performed like this, he is irresistible, overflowing with joie de vivre. The Danse Slave is intoxicating. I saw a production of this opera at Grange Park more than ten years ago, but, unbelievably, the first British performance had been staged as late as the centenary of Chabrier's death. I know the libretto is implausible, but we are deprived of the fine music of too many operas for this reason. Le Roi malgré lui includes some really original and forward-looking music. As well as reading why Ravel was so captivated - “la première de Le Roi malgré lui a changé l'orientation de l'harmonie française” - we should also listen for the evidence in a number of harmonic debts to Chabrier throughout his music, and to that of Debussy.

The delightful Suite Pastorale is the composer's own orchestration of four pieces from his Dix pièces pittoresques. The opening Idylle knocked Poulenc for six when he first heard it, a reaction I fully share, but it is also one of those pieces which come up fresh every time. With admirable attention to detail, Paray gives what is probably the best performance of the ten or so in my collection, following it with an alert but unhurried Danse villageoise (marked only Allegro risoluto!). Sous bois, on the other hand, may be a little hurried for some tastes but I think it works. In the final movement, Paray is exhilarating, then affectionate in the gentler section. As for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (in the late 50's) – wow! Paray was music director between 1952 and 1963 but also quite a prolific composer. He died aged 93. I have a feeling that he is unfairly overshadowed by some of his French contemporaries – Munch, Martinon, Désormière, Fournet and others. (Mental note: explore his discography!)

Sounding more characterful than it usually does, the Habanera is conducted by Ansermet. Then we return to Paray for electric performances of the Bourrée fantasque, one of Chabrier's most daringly original works, and Joyeuse Marche, in which he brings out all its fizzing wit. Cortot made some telling remarks about the piano original of the Bourrée, with its stamping rhythm: “no one had written like this for the piano … new techniques of musical colour … Albéniz and Granados have felt its influence … neither Rimsky-Korsakov … nor Stravinsky in Petrushka has been able to forget it.”

Lalo's Namouna is a bonus replacing the Roussel Suite in F on the original Mercury recording. I rather like quite a lot of Lalo's music but it seems a little pale after Chabrier.

One could hardly wish for a finer advocate than Paray for these scores. Phenomenal vitality, imagination, wit and panache – they all jump out from this programme. This was always a stunning recording and nothing has changed. Well-informed and enthusiastic, the notes for this reissue are by James Murray and the recorded sound is outstanding.

Philip Borg-Wheeler

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