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
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.