CHARPENTIER: Impressions d’Italie; MASSENET: Scènes pittoresques (Orchestral Suite No. 4); Scènes Alsaciennes (Orchestral Suite No. 7); Phèdre: Overture;  Werther: Prélude & La nuit de Noël; FRANCK: Le Chasseur Maudit; Rédemption – morceau symphonique; LALO: Rapsodie norvegienne; Scherzo in A Minor, Op. 26; Le Roi d’Ys: Overture – Paris Conservatoire Orch. and Orch. de L’Opera-Comique Paris/ Albert Wolff – Decca Eloquence 480 2382 (2 CDs) 77:47, 73:14 [Distr. By UMG] (4/8/14) ****:

Little of this music is heard in U.S. concerts with rare exceptions – which is too bad because most of it is French orchestral Romanticism at its finest. Couple the stature of the composers and their music with a seasoned, knowledgeable French conductor such as Albert Wolff and you have a glimpse into the past that is quite exciting and very much in the French style.

Wolff (1884—1970) was born in France to Dutch parents. He occupied a variety of musical posts over the first half of the twentieth century, mostly in France. (British) Decca used him to record items that their main French star, Ernest Ansermet, apparently did not want to record. There are several items of  significant interest in this collection. Franck’s Le Chasseur Maudit (The Accursed Huntsman) is hair-raising. The first disc’s music captures the bucolic and pastoral images of period France. The overtures are exciting, particularly Le Roi Ys.

It is hard to tell what is in stereo and what is not, since Decca Eloquence does not divulge more than the copyright dates of the recordings. [Expected; some of the major labels are not even indicating if some discs are SACD or multichannel if they are…Ed.] You can guess based on what you hear. Here is my deduction from the copyright dates listed.

All of the recordings from 1951 (Le Roi d’Ys, Phèdre and Werther) were made when major record companies generally did not record in stereo. Hence, we are left with good old mono and the sonically claustraphobic effect it creates not to mention some strange instrumental timbres. These three short items were recorded with the Orchestre de l’Opéra-Comique Paris.

The rest of the pieces were recorded with the Paris Conservatoire Orchestre. By simple deduction and listening, the remaining items are in stereo: the Massenet Scènes (1956), the Charpentier Impressions (1957), the Franck items and the other Lalo items (1975). According to the back of the jewel box this set is the first release of this music on Decca CD.

Sonically these stereo items are vivid, considering their age. There have been more modern recordings with better sound, but none have Wolff or his like conducting (except for Charles Munch’s Le Chasseur Maudit on RCA) and none are with French orchestras closer to the era when the music was composed. Recommended to anyone interested in the French Romantics’ orchestral creations.


Disc 1 =
1-4 CHARPENTIER: Impressions d’Italie 38:48
6-9 MASSENET: Scènes pittoresques 15:54
10-13 MASSENET: Scènes Alsaciennes 22:45
Disc  2 =
1 FRANCK: Le Chasseur Maudit 15:04
2 FRANCK: Rédemption – morceau symphonique 11:45
3-4 LALO: Rapsodie norvegienne 10:52
5 LALO: Scherzo in A Minor, Op. 26 5:02
6 LALO: Le Roi d’Ys – Overture 11:47
7 MASSENET: Phèdre – Overture 8:56
8 MASSENET: Werther – Prelude & La nuit de Noël 9:05

—Zan Furtwangler