JEAN MARTINON Conducts Music by IBERT, SAINT-SAENS & BERLIOZ – Paris Conservatoire Orch. – HDTT

by | Mar 1, 2016 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

Celebrating Jean Martinon’s Decca legacy in fine transfers from commercial reel tapes.

Jean Martinon Conducts Music by IBERT, SAINT-SAENS & BERLIOZ – Paris Conservatoire Orch. – HDTT [various formats including hi-res PCM & DSD from] (This one is DSD 64) 53:34 *****:

This splendid compilation of Decca recordings made with the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra under Jean Martinon has been an audiophile delight since first released 55 years or more ago.

The Berlioz works were recorded 3-4 November1958 and first released on Decca SXL 2134, together with the Overture to Benvenuto Cellini, not included in this selection.  The Paris orchestra is on excellent from, with silky strings and an unmistakeably French flavour to the wind and horns.  Martinon produces a softer side to Berlioz, somewhat different from the vehement, bared-teeth readings of many conductors.  The result is a little more depth to the listening experience at the expense of a little superficial excitement.  Berlioz in three dimensions.

The Ibert and Saint-Saens works were recorded 16-17 June 1960 and appeared on Decca SXL 2252 to much acclaim.  Ibert’s wonderfully varied and entertaining Divertissement, written in 1930 and derived from his incidental music written the previous year for the farce The Italian Straw Hat, by Eugène Labiche.  During the early years of LP, Decca released an excellent mono version conducted by Roger Désormière, well worth hearing for its even ruder bassoons.  Martinon’s is fine performance, adeptly balancing the light-hearted and frivolous writing with the more serious.  Saint-Saens’ Danse macabre comes across more than just a show-piece and so bears repeated listening.

Sound quality obtained by producer Ray Minshull and engineer Kenneth Wilkinson at the La Maison de la Mutualité, Paris is first-class, and the transfer from commercial reel is very successful.  For audition I chose the DSD64 option and compared to the CD released in Decca’s ‘The Classic Sound’ series, the results have more body than the already fine-sounding CD. A highly-recommended gem in HDTT’s vaults.


01 Ibert – Divertissement Intro
02 Ibert – Divertissement Cortege
03 Ibert – Divertissement Nocturne
04 Ibert – Divertissement Valse
05 Ibert – Divertissement Parade
06 Ibert – Divertissement Finale – Allegro vivace
07 Saint-Saens – Danse Macabre, Op 40
08 Berlioz – Hungarian March from La Damnation de Faust
09 Berlioz – Overture Le Corsaire
10 Berlioz – Overture Le Carnaval Romain
11 Berlioz – Overture Beatrice et Benedict


BORODIN:  Symphony No 2;  London Sym. Orch./ Jean Martinon – HDTT [avail. in various formats including hi-res PCM & DSD from] [This review uses DSD64 and PCM 24/96], 25:13 ****:

Jean Martinon’s recording of Borodin’s Symphony No. 2 has been one of the most highly recommended since its release in the early days of stereo.  Recorded in Kingsway Hall 6-7 March 1958 by producer James Walker and engineers Alan Abel & Kenneth Wilkinson, the recording appeared first not on Decca, but on RCA LSC2298 and SB2105.  RCA had a reciprocal arrangement with Decca in those days and only when that came to an end in the early 1970s did it appear on Decca SPA281 coupled with Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio espagnol and March from Tsar Saltan.  This release includes only the symphony which makes for somewhat short measure.

Martinon’s recording uses the London Symphony Orchestra, not quite the polished band it became later under Previn.  Mind you, the tempo for the opening movement is more than a little demanding for the orchestra, clocking in at 6:54 compared with Ashkenazy at 7:14, Gergiev at 7:58, Sanderling at 8:42 and Svetlanov at 9:09.  Only Carlos Kleiber matches Martinon in his well-played version coupled with the same work recorded some years before by his father Erich.  Membran’s series of SACDs has an excellent version with the Royal Philharmonic conducted by Ole Schmidt which combines fine orchestral playing with a light and vivacious touch, and a very well-paced opening movement.

The three movements following are altogether successful – a sparkling scherzo where the orchestra plays very well indeed, a well-paced slow movement, and an energetic finale.

The Walker-Abel-Wilkinson production wears its years lightly, the DSD64 sounding a trifle smoother than the PCM 24/96 files and certainly fuller in body than the Decca CD.  Balance is largely well-considered, and copes well with Martinon’s fleet approach, the orchestral parts coming over with much clarity.

All in all, this is an excellent presentation of a gramophone classic in fine sound.

—Peter Joelson

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