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Len Mullenger:

D. MILHAUD: 'Les Choephores'. HONEGGER: Symphony No. 5 'Di Tre Re'. ROUSSEL: Bacchus et Arianne - Suite.    Chor de l'Universite Lamoureux Orchestre Igor Markevitch DG The Originals 449-748-2 [73m] ADD.
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Igor Markevitch's trailblazing series of recordings for DG set new standards in orchestral perfection and balance in those heady 1950's. DG have already released the legendary Berwald recordings and the Berlioz 'Fantastique', now is the turn of some exquisitely rare Francophilia. To my mind there is no recording of Milhaud's charming choral scene available other than this superbly performed vintage transfer. The French singers provide the perfect accompaniment to such a difficult work and the orchestra play with truly vintage French panache.

I was not wholly convinced by the narrators role in such a complex work, indeed the occasional lapse of ensemble is heard such are the complexities and tonal clusters that Milhaud creates. The mono recording does not help matters but although it is congested there is still admirable space and balance between singers and orchestra. A classic! The same words could be applied to Honegger'' Fifth Symphony, a veritable tour-de-force of savagery and imbued passion.

Three short movements show the composer in deep mental distress, indeed the music is an almost wanton cry of pain throughout. Markevitch'' was one of the first performances ever committed to disc and the commitment of all and sundry is quite disarming. The grief-stricken pages in the First Movement come across with alacrity as is the almost funereal-like conclusion. There is also a deep commitment in the Finale which is taken at a steadier tempo than usual. The end result leaves one in stultifying darkness, just the sort of atmosphere that Honegger would have probably wanted.

This stereo 'Bacchus' makes for an intriguing coupling although the music cannot really compare with the stark grandeur and greatness of Honegger. As comparisons go, I would place Markevitch at the top of the pile for the symphony, definitely toppling Plasson (EMI) and Dutoit (Warner Ultima) for sheer involvement. The other works need caution but as a whole this disc is a great souvenir of the exciting Lamoureux Orchestra at its brilliant best.



Gerald Fenech



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