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Paray Mercury v2 4843318
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Paul Paray (conductor)
The Mercury Masters Volume 2
rec. 1958-1962
ELOQUENCE 484 3318 [22 CDs: 974]

Eloquence’s survey of Paul Paray’s Mercury legacy is split into two boxes. I’ve already reviewed the first volume and this second one brings 22 CDs of Original Jacket LPs covering the years 1958-62. In fact, the final disc is one Paray made for DG, of which more below.

Paray and the Detroit Symphony kept up an impressively high interpretative and executant standard throughout the entirety of these sessions. The strings had been schooled by the ex-NBC concertmaster Mischa Mischakoff and there’s a lithe, alert unanimity in orchestral attacks that means that the performances remain enviably alive. There’s also a transparency of sound that’s perfectly suited to Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream incidental music and to an extent to the Reformation Symphony though for my tastes, whilst linear and direct, it just misses that element of grandeur the music demands.

By this point in his Mercury contract the recordings were beginning to take on a kind of shape. There would be a symphonic staple – say the Mendelssohn – followed by LPs that included smaller pieces that explored the French repertoire. Increasingly, as Paray aged, they took on a populist element. Not that he ever fell below the highest of standards, it’s rather more that his interest in French music was largely from Berlioz to Barraud, and Barraud was very much the exception as he wasn’t fond of much contemporary music. It so happens that he almost immediately made one of his most alluring and ear-titillating discs in the shape of Schmitt’s La Tragédie de Salomé, which he performed on disc alongside Strauss’ Dance of the Seven Veils and Lalo’s Namouna Suite No 1. Schmitt was still alive when this was recorded though I doubt whether he could have heard it, as he was to die later in the year. Paray replaces the soprano vocal with an oboe but otherwise this is Paray at his most evocative and sensuous. The Strauss is more lyrical than pungent, and the Lalo is aromatic and beautifully pointed.

Paray was perfectly placed to direct a collection of French overtures by Berlioz, Lalo and Bizet and always seemed geared up for studio performance. There’s never any feeling that he is inhibited or holding back, rather that he is fully absorbed in bringing out the dramatic flair of the music, something that equally applies to the LP called ‘Bouquet de Paray’ where we find some succulent popular items from Rossini, Weber, Liszt and Saint-Saëns; I assume Mischakoff takes the solo in the Danse macabre. I’ve written about his outstanding Schumann cycle in the first volume, but you’ll find Symphony No 1 in this set.

Sibelius’ Second Symphony (January 1959) is an example of Mercury’s repertoire expansion and Paray’s programme building. He takes a Toscanini-Kajanus tempo, though he clearly has a finer orchestra at his disposal than Kajanus did. The reading is direct, propulsive and intense, and to me unremittingly gripping. That said, it won’t be to all tastes and the acoustic of the Ford Auditorium was not the equal of Old Orchestra Hall. He then recorded the first two symphonies of Beethoven on a single disc. They add to the Sixth and Seventh contained in the first volume and if Mercury and Paray were ever serious about recording the cycle, it never happened, which is a pity as he had a strong interpretative standpoint, particularly about tempo relations and metronome markings.

The Vive La Marche! LP is a perfect example of Paray’s art in miniature in which he vests each piece with sensitivity and stylistically appropriate colour. His Chabrier Marche troyenne is a foretaste of the Chabrier disc he made later in 1960 in which he revisited España – which he had earlier made in mono, to be found in CD11 in volume 1 – and added a delightfully phrased Suite pastorale, a roistering Fête polonaise and other equally savoury morsels. The Debussy-Ravel CD10 marries sonority with pacing ensuring that nothing lingers unnecessarily. He then presented an Offenbach-Auber disc of overtures, in the main – though he also included the little suite from Les Contes d’Hoffmann. Yes, this is the lighter muse but by virtue of flair, smart transitions, incisive phrasing and memorably lyrical insight and textual clarity, he brings each piece memorably to life. Light doesn’t mean disposable and it still needs a perceptive conductor at the tiller.

As Mercury did in the earlier volume, they still parcelled out a Wagner album to Paray. It’s a selection of The Flying Dutchman overture, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg Suite – which is, in fact, not standard but the Introduction to Act III, Dance of the Apprentices and the Procession of the Mastersingers - Wotan’s Farewell and Magic Fire Music and Rienzi overture. This is clear and direct Wagner conducting that never inflates the music but relies on precision of articulation and string clarity. From Wagner it was back to French Overtures for CD13 – he was an especially fine Auber conductor as this incisive recording of the overture to Les Diamants de la couronne shows – and thence to what must have been a much desired recording of the Symphonie fantastique. Recorded in Cass Technical High School its sound is subtly different to that obtained in Old Orchestra Hall, and it’s also a bigger sound, allowing the orchestral sonority to expand, and such is Paray’s accomplished command of this music – trenchant, rhythmically crisp even to the point of brutality – that it emerges triumphantly.

For his last symphonic assignment Mercury gave Paray Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony to record. This is something that Rafael Kubelík had recorded for the company in Chicago in February 1952 but in mono. The Czech conductor was no slouch when it came to this symphony but even he pales next to Paray who charges through it in fewer than 35 minutes (Kubelík took 38; most conductors take somewhere between 40 and 44 unless you’re Celibidache and with him we’re into cuckoo territory). Faster than Toscanini and on a rough par with the pre-war Hamilton Harty, this is a dangerous ride and even the virtuosity of the Detroit orchestra and the clarity they generate can’t really compensate for the tempo decisions. Still, Paray is at least consistently fast throughout, and it makes for a once-in-a while listen.

A more central recommendation comes with the six Suppé overtures recorded in 1959. Here the rhythms swing, the brass play with panache and there’s a brilliantine quality to the music making that doesn’t preclude lyricism. Nocturnes and Daphnis et Chloé, second suite, are coupled on CD17. The former is genuinely evocative and includes a good chorus in Sirénes. Daphnis is repertoire that invited Paray’s qualities of control and balance and the result is highly sympathetic if, to me, slightly objectified. Mercury remade Paray’s Franck Symphony in stereo in 1959 and it shares with its mono confrere a perceptive accommodation of the work’s more mystical moments. In 1962 Mercury recorded a Ravel-Ibert disc They remade their earlier mono versions of the Rapsodie espagnole and La Valse in stereo and added Ibert’s Escales which Paray had also earlier recorded in mono. It’s not merely that he had premièred this work that makes this particular disc so valuable, rather that, in the big acoustic of Cass Technical High School, he draws from it pinpoint precision and charismatic personalisation without detracting from its structure.

Time was nearly up for Paray’s Mercury sessions in Detroit but there remained the Ballet album, a choice selection of morsels from the French operatic repertory to which he does full justice. Then there’s The Naked Carmen, written and arranged by John Corigliano and David A Hess. It features groovy LP art boasting ‘Cast of Thousands including Stars from Hair’ and much else. Paray and the Detroit’s 1956 recording is used to which bizarre snoring synth noises are overlaid as well as way-out drizzly sonics. This ‘Electric Rock Opera’ was obviously designed for the counterculture but the songs from it I listened to include a droopy guitar ballad and Bach’s Chaconne on the guitar. Failing as a critic – life’s too short – I didn’t listen to the rest but formed the general opinion that it could have done with a lot more sex.

The last disc is the DG Ravel coupling of the Piano Concerto and Concerto for the Left Hand, played by Monique Haas with the Orchestre National de France. I’m not at all sure what it’s doing here but for what it’s worth it’s always been considered one of the most bracing, direct and best performances of the works. Haas plays beautifully, never overplaying her hand, and she and Paray offer superior Gallic imagination, insight and execution throughout.

This marvellous disc ends a splendid treasury of recordings drawn from Mercury’s stereo sessions in Detroit. The remasterings are superb and authoritative, the notes by Peter Quantrill are comprehensive (and occasionally droll), and Thomas Fine has compiled his accustomed Sessionography, which you omit reading at your peril. In every way it’s a fitting companion to volume 1.

Jonathan Woolf

CD 1
A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Incidental Music, Op 61, MWV M1
Symphony No 5 in D minor, Op 107, MWV N15 ‘Reformation’
Recording Location: Old Orchestra Hall, Detroit, USA, 21 March 1958

CD 2
La Tragédie de Salomé, Op 50
Dance of the Seven Veils (Salome)
ÉDOUARD LALO (1823–1892)
Namouna: Suite No 1
Recording Location: Old Orchestra Hall, Detroit, USA, 23 March 1958 (Schmitt, R. Strauss), 23–24 March 1958 (Lalo)

CD 3
HECTOR BERLIOZ (1803–1869)
Overture: Le Carnaval romain, Op 9
ÉDOUARD LALO (1823–1892)
Overture: Le Roi d’Ys
GEORGES BIZET (1838–1875)
Overture: La Patrie
HECTOR BERLIOZ (1803–1869)
Overture: Le Corsaire, Op 21
Recording Location: Old Orchestra Hall, Detroit, USA, 24 March (Bizet, Berlioz), 22 March 1958 (Lalo)

CD 4
Symphony No 1 in B-flat major, Op 38 ‘Spring’
Overture: Manfred, Op 115
Recording Location: Old Orchestra Hall, Detroit, USA, 22 May 1958

CD 5
Overture: William Tell
Danse macabre, Op 4
Aufforderung zum Tanze, Op 65 Arranged by Hector Berlioz (1803–1869)
FRANZ LISZT (1811–1886)
Mephisto Waltz No 1, S. 110
Recording Location: Henry and Edsel Ford Auditorium, Detroit, USA, 16 January 1959

CD 6
JEAN SIBELIUS (1865–1957)
Symphony No 2 in D major, Op 43
Recording Location: Henry and Edsel Ford Auditorium, Detroit, USA, 17 January 1959

CD 7
Symphony No 2 in D major, Op 36
Symphony No 1 in C major, Op 21
Recording Location: Henry and Edsel Ford Auditorium, Detroit, USA, 18 January 1959

CD 8
HECTOR BERLIOZ (1803–1869)
Marche hongroise (La Damnation de Faust, Op 24)
CHARLES GOUNOD (1818–1893)
Marche funèbre d’une marionette
Marche héroique in E-flat major, Op 34
ROUGET DE LISLE (1760–1836)
La Marseillaise
Joyeuse marche
Marche militaire française (Suite algérienne in C major, Op 60)
HECTOR BERLIOZ (1803–1869)
Marche troyenne (Les Troyens)
Coronation March (Le Prophète)
Recording Location: Old Orchestra Hall, Detroit, USA, 3-5 April 1960

CD 9
España – Rhapsody for Orchestra
Suite Pastorale
Fête polonaise (Le Roi malgré lui)
Overture: Gwendoline
Danse slave (Le Roi malgré lui)
Recording Location: Cass Technical High School, Detroit, USA, 18 November 1960

CD 10
CLAUDE DEBUSSY (1822–1890)
Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, L.86
MAURICE RAVEL (1875–1937)
Valses nobles et sentimentales, M.61
Le Tombeau de Couperin, M.68
CLAUDE DEBUSSY (1822–1890)
Petite Suite (orch. Büsser)
Recording Location: Old Orchestra Hall, Detroit, USA, 3 April 1959 (Debussy, Ravel: Valses Nobles et sentimentales), 5 April 1959 (Ravel: Le Tombeau de Couperin), 3–4 December 1955 (Debussy)

CD 11
Overture: La belle Hélène
Overture: Orphée aux enfers
Les Contes d’Hoffmann – Suite
DANIEL AUBER (1782–1871)
Overture: Le Cheval de bronze
Overture: Fra Diavolo
Overture: Masaniello
Recording Location: Old Orchestra Hall, Detroit, USA, 4 April (Auber), 3–5 April 1959 (Offenbach)

CD 12
RICHARD WAGNER (1813–1883)
Overture: Der fliegende Holländer
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: Suite
Wotan’s Farewell and Magic Fire Music (Die Walküre)
Overture: Rienzi
Recording Location: Cass Technical High School, Detroit, USA, 20 February 1960

CD 13
Overture: Zampa
Overture: Les Diamants de la couronne
Overture: Mignon
Overture: Raymond
Overture: La Dame blanche
ADOLPHE ADAM (1803–1856)
Overture: Si j’étais roi
Recording Location: Cass Technical High School, Detroit, USA, 19 November 1960

CD 14
HECTOR BERLIOZ (1803–1869)
Symphonie fantastique, Op 14
Recording Location: Cass Technical High School, Detroit, USA, 28 November 1959

CD 15
ANTONÍN DVOŘÁK (1841–1904)
Symphony No 9 in E minor, Op 9 ‘From the New World’
Recording Location: Cass Technical High School, Detroit, USA, 19 February 1960

CD 16
FRANZ VON SUPPÉ (1819–1895)
Overture: Die schöne Galathée
Overture: Pique Dame
Overture: Leichte Kavallerie
Overture: Dichter und Bauer
Overture: Ein Morgen, ein Mittag und ein Abend in Wien
Overture: Boccaccio, oder Der Prinz von Palermo
Recording Location: Cass Technical High School, Detroit, USA, 29 November 1959

CD 17
CLAUDE DEBUSSY (1822–1890)
Nocturnes, L.91
MAURICE RAVEL (1822–1890)
Daphnis et Chloé – Suite No. 2, M.57b
Wayne State University Women’s Glee Club Choir/ Malcolm Johns, director (Debussy)
Recording Location: Cass Technical High School, Detroit, USA, 11 March 1961

CD 18
CÉSAR FRANCK (1822–1890)
Symphony in D minor, FWV 48
Recording Location: Cass Technical High School, Detroit, USA, 27 November 1959

CD 19
MAURICE RAVEL (1875–1937)
Rapsodie espagnole, M.54
Alborada del gracioso, M.43
Pavane pour une infante défunte, M.19
La Valse, M.72
JACQUES IBERT (1890–1962)
Recording Location: Cass Technical High School, Detroit, USA, 18 March 1962

CD 20
CHARLES GOUNOD (1818–1893)
Faust – ballet music
Bacchanale (Samson et Dalila)
GEORGES BIZET (1838–1875)
Danse bohème (Carmen Suite No 2)
HECTOR BERLIOZ (1803–1869)
Chasse royale et orage – Pantomime (Les Troyens)
JULES MASSENET (1842–1912)
Overture: Phèdre
Gavotte (Mignon)
Recording Location: Cass Technical High School, Detroit, USA, 17 March 1962

CD 21
The Naked Carmen
Electric Rock Opera
Written, arranged and produced by John Corigliano & David A. Hess
Adapted from Bizet’s Carmen
John Corigliano, synthesizer
Anita Darian, kazoo
John Atkins, piano
David Hess, Melba Moore, George Turner, Robert White, William Walker, vocals
Mary Bruce And Her Starbuds Pig Iron
Detroit Symphony Orchestra/Paul Paray

CD 22
MAURICE RAVEL (1875–1937)
Piano Concerto in G major, M.83
Piano Concerto for the Left Hand in D major, M.82
Monique Haas, piano
Orchestre National de France/Paul Paray
Recording Location: Radio France, Paris, France, April 1965

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