French Orchestral Music = BIZET: Carmen Suit No. 1; Patrie Overture; Roma–Carnaval; CHABRIER: Gwendoline Overture; Joyeuse Marche; Espana; FAURE: Dolly Suite; SAINT-SEANS: Le Rouet D‚Omphale – Sir Thomas Beecham – EMI Great Recordings of the Century

by | Mar 12, 2007 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

French Orchestral Music = BIZET: Carmen Suit No. 1; Patrie Overture, Op. 19; Roma–Carnaval; CHABRIER: Gwendoline Overture; Joyeuse Marche; Espana; FAURE: Dolly Suite, Op. 56 ; SAINT-SEANS: Le Rouet D’Omphale, Op. 31 – Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Francaise/ Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/ London Philharmonic/ Sir Thomas Beecham

EMI Classics Great Recordings of the Century 3 79985 2, 77:35 ****:

Vintage Beecham (1897-1961) wine in a new bottle, but irresistibly smooth champagne at any price! The utterly clear passions from Carmen (rec. 1958) capture the fate motif and the toreador song, and the lovely flute from the Entr’acte. French music had always been a Beecham specialty; my own favorite has been the Saint-Saens Dance of the Priestesses and the Baachanale from Samson et Dalilah. Some enterprising record producer had better restore Beecham’s awesome performance of Franck’s Le Chasseur maudit.

The 1957 Gwendoline Overtute packs a tremendous whollop, as close as Chabrier gets to Wagner (Tannhauser) as we are likely to hear. The thoroughly ingenuous lyricism of Faure’s Dolly Suite (rec. 1959), its concessions to what Wordsworth called “childhood faith,” compel our rapture. A pity Beecham did not record Debussy’s Petite Suite. The delicate textures might be sly or playful, but their sincerity of expression is never in doubt. Le Jardin de Dolly wafts through the summer air. Kitty-Valse has something of the suave boulevardier about it. Tendresse exudes the same nostalgia as the finale from Ravel’s Mother Goose, another suite I wish Beecham had inscribed. We feel that Faure’s Melisande is not far away. Wicked tambourines for Le Pas Espanola, then winds, harp, and triangle. A touch of Moorish passion wends its way across the landscape, a brilliant series of color pieces, beautifully orchestrated by Henri Rabaud. 

Our only concession to Saint-Saens is the 1957 recording with the Royal Philharmonic of Omphale’s Spinning Wheel, originally on an LP of Orchestral Lollipops. Lilting strings and transparent winds yield to the heavy monotony of Hercules’ task. Virtuoso ensemble for Chabrier’s swaggering, raucous Joyous March. The 1939 Espana Rhapsody with the LPO is the antique performance here, and the sparkling trumpet work, the sizzling strings still singe your hair. I well recall my LP of Bizet’s Patrie Overture (rec. 1956), surely as fine a rendition as that offered contemporaneously by Andre Cluytens. Rather a tonepoem than an overture, it possesses some fine melodic moments. Finally, the 1957 Roma carnival, with apologies to Berlioz; this movement is rarely connected to its kinsmen devoted to Florence, Venice, and Naples. A spirited tarantella it is, the high piccolo and string 16th runs a-shimmer. Grand Beecham in his best Mediterranean guise.

— Gary Lemco

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