Desiree Defauw cond. Chicago Sym. Vol. 1 = Works of FRANCK; RESPIGHI; PROKOFIEV – Chicago Sym./Desiree Defauw – Historical-Recordings

by | Jul 26, 2011 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Desiree Defauw conducts Chicago Symphony, Vol. 1 = FRANCK: Le Chasseur Maudit; Redemption–Morceau Symphonique; Psyche: Le Sleep of Psyche; Psyche surrounded by Zephyrs and Psyche and Eros; RESPIGHI: The Birds; PROKOFIEV: Scythian Suite, Op. 20 – Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Desiree Defauw – Historical-Recordings HRCD 0093, 74:52 [] ****:
Belgian violinist and conductor Desiree Defauw (1885-1960) had been serving as the Principal Conductor of the Montreal Symphony when the death of Frederick Stock in Chicago precipitated Defauw’s assumption of the helm of the CSO, 1943-1947.  Despite reports that morale among the players was low, the recordings restored–via Bill Anderson–from the 1945 and 1947 session for RCA Victor testify to impassioned and articulate playing from the CSO in repertory they would neglect until the accession of Jean Martinon sixteen years later.
The program opens with a Franck group, of which the 1882 Le Chasseur Maudit (The Accursed Huntsman) after the ballad by Buerger resonates alternately with pomp and malice. The performance (12 April 1947) while moving briskly reveals solid orchestral discipline, pace and sonority rather similar to that achieved by Andre Cluytens in his rendition. The last pages, describing in vivid figures the pursuit of the huntsman himself by malevolent demons, reaches a fever pitch of poetic justice. The symphonic intermezzo that opens the second part of Franck’s Redemption (1873; rev. 1876) contains extremely lush and audacious harmonies, as if Franck wanted to be Bruckner. Recorded at the same session as The Accursed Huntsman, the ten-minute episode shivers with intensity and elastic melodies, enough to warrant repeated hearings in concert, where his Symphony and Symphonic Variations maintain hegemony in Franck’s oeuvre.  The miraculous oratorio as a whole achieved acceptance only in 1896, six years after Franck’s death.
Defauw and the CSO recorded excerpts from Franck’s Psyche et Eros 17 March 1945.  A grand leisure pervades Le Sommeil de Psyche, whose arched anguished melody line first caught my attention from Los Angeles, when the Philharmonic played under Carlo Maria Giulini.  The fluent CSO string line certainly wafts in time and space in this inscription, seamlessly transferred from RCA shellacs. The CSO strings, winds, and brass contribute to the effect of zephyrs, along with the harp, presumably played by Edward Vito. The unending-melody construct surely takes its cue from Wagner’s Tristan, but the melodic contour is all Franck, luxuriant and  burnished in dark hues.
The 1927 suite for small orchestra by Ottorino Respighi, “The Birds,” makes a lovely vehicle for the CSO and Defauw (rec. 16 March 1945).  The modern transcriptions of dances by Pasquini, Gallot, Rameau, and Eyck display the consummate artistry of the CSO woodwinds, especially in “The Dove” second movement. The happy conjunction of antique dances and kaleidoscopic instrumentation flows effortlessly throughout the five-movement suite, a paean to Old World charm. Few scores could counter the Respighi as barbarically as Prokofiev’s 1915 suite from his ballet Ala and Lolly, the Scythian Suite, recorded in the same sessions as The Birds.  From the outset, The Invocation of the Sun, we are in the throes of Prokofiev’s erotic violence, certainly his reaction to Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. The level of orchestral virtuosity seems to me exactly what Reiner would build upon during his own forthcoming tenure with the orchestra after the one-year Rodzinski leadership. The Evil God and Dance of the Pagan Monsters–many of whose riffs derive from Mussorgsky’s Night on Bare Mountain–under Defauw exerts a fiery energy that few except Mitropoulos can equal. In the Night section, the Evil God harms Ala, and Moon Maidens console her in her agony. The celesta contributes to the lunar effect. In true Manichean form, the forces of light triumph over the forces of darkness in the last section, The Glorious Departure of Lolly and the Cortege of the Sun. Here, Prokofiev’s rhythmic-color model could be Stravinsky’s Petrushka, intensified into a grand apotheosis whose striking inscription makes us wish the Defauw legacy had been infinitely larger.
— Gary Lemco

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