Lucien Caillet – Studio Recordings, 1936-1946 = Works of BACH, PURCELL, TURINA, CAILLET, MUSSORGSKY – Ormandy/ Reiner/ Stokowski/ Fiedler – Pristine Audio

by | Jun 18, 2015 | Classical Reissue Reviews

Lucien Caillet – Studio Recordings, 1936-1946 = BACH (arr. Caillet): Prelude and Fugue in F Minor, BWV 535; Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, BWV 147; Preludio from Violin Partita No. 3 in E Major, BWV 1006; “Little” Fugue in G Minor, BWV 578; PURCELL (arr. Caillet): Suite from Dido and Aeneas; TURINA (arr. Caillet): Sacro-Monte from Five Gypsy Dances; MUSSORGSKY (arr. Caillet): Pictures at an Exhibition; CAILLET: Variations on the Theme ‘Pop! Goes the Weasel’ – The Philadelphia Orch./ Eugene Ormandy (Bach, Mussorgsky)/ Pittsburgh Sym. Orch./ Fritz Reiner (Bach “Little” Fugue”)/ The Philadelphia Orch./ Leopold Stokowski (Turina)/ Boston Pops Orch./ Arthur Fiedler (Caillet) – Pristine Audio PASC 444, 71:13 [] ****:  

Producer and restoration engineer Mark Obert-Thorn devotes his energies to the composer and orchestrator Lucien Caillet (1891-1985), whose accomplishments extend beyond his considerable body of work for both Leopold Stokowski and Eugene Ormandy in Philadelphia, but to Hollywood scores for classic films like Red River and The Ten Commandments.

Having Leopold Stokowski’s input – since Stokowski served as both organist and orchestrator himself – aided Caillet in his transcriptions of the four Bach works offered in this collection. The application of the organ diapason to the timbres of the Philadelphia strings, winds, and brass proves luxurious, and especially sensitive to the colors that Caillet’s chosen clarinet can bring to the texture. Ormandy’s F Minor Prelude and Fugue (13 December 1936) possesses drive and often explosive power. The barer textures easily point to Bach’s effect on musical thinkers like Berg and Webern. The Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring derives from the same 13 December 1936 session. The Myra Hess piano transcription from Bach’s Cantata No. 147 had already guaranteed the success of the lush orchestration with soft winds, strings, and harp that swell in the brass to full chorale status. The Bach E Major Partita Preludio (5 April 1937) transcription incorporates a lively panoply of wind and brass effects to support the virtuosic string line. For a “pure” string transcription, we would turn to the contemporary inscription by Koussevitzky. Fritz Reiner leads the Pittsburgh Symphony 4 February 1946 reading of the so-called “Little Fugue” in G Minor, opening with woodwinds in the form of a serenade that swells out to embrace the other choirs in resonant polyphony, including a forceful tuba.

While Leopold Stokowski tended to restrict his Purcell Dido and Aeneas transcription to the aria, “When I am laid in earth,” Eugene Ormandy expanded Purcell’s efforts in dramatic tragedy to embrace seven excerpts, recorded 8 January 1939. The opening music, the chromatic Overture – Adagio; Allegro moderato – resonates with an orchestral sheen quite anticipatory of both Handel and Wagner. A series of brief tableaux follows, mostly dance interludes and the Prelude to Act 3. The Lento: Prelude for the Witches conveys some dark power. With the expansive recitative and aria, “When I am laid in earth,” we have that perfect vehicle for “the Philadelphia Sound.” The music’s close affective relation to Gluck’s Orfeo seems apparent here, in terms of the haunted, tragic patina. The one Stokowski cut, the Sacro-Monte from Gypsy Dances (5 April 1937), barely lasts under two minutes, but it has a visceral energy we know better from Stokowski’s way with El Amor Brujo.

Having been commissioned by Eugene Ormandy to orchestrate Mussorgsky’s 1874 Pictures at an Exhibition, Caillet chose many color alternatives to the Ravel version, which Koussevitzky had commissioned.  Caillet reinstated the fifth appearance of the Promenade, just prior to the Limoges section, omitted by Ravel. Caillet assigns the string and brass sections a “softer” coloration for the Promenade than does Ravel. Ormandy paces the grotesque Gnomus to render it ghastly, even a touch obscene, in consonance with Fuseli’s The Nightmare. The English horn provides the troubadour’s initial song for The Old Castle, over a throbbing bass line. The effect proves melancholy and menacing, like Roman Polanski’s last scenes for his disturbing The Ninth Gate. Brass punctuations illuminate the mercurial Tuileries, colored even by a harp glissando. Ormandy takes the ox-cart Bydlo at quick tempo, and the scoring lightens its burden of Russian soil. Does Caillet see the piece as a spirited military march?

The string scoring for the fourth Promenade, mysterioso, places the tune next to the opera Boris Gudonov. Winds and strings still scamper and pop in the form of Unhatched Chicks, a sound close to ironic Stravinsky. Schmuyle in the next (dialogue) section does not test the French horn but strings and muted trumpet. A brass pageant defines the fifth Promenade that turns into a rich organ sonority, tutti. The bustling life at Limoges contrasts with the succeeding two sections that remind us that “in the midst of life. . . ” Baba Yaga seems a mite less terrible in the Caillet orchestration, but no less eerie. Ormandy’s tempos, marcato, make what is earthy ponderous. Once more, the patina for The Great Gate of Kiev assumes a softer glow, monumental and colorful, but more intent on glamorous illumination than in Ravel. The combination of bells, strings, and snare drum has a novelty all its own.

Lastly, we have Caillet’s own, clever arrangement of the child’s favorite ‘Pop! Goes the Weasel’ by everyone’s conductor, Arthur Fiedler (27 June 1937). The fugato treatment in varying colors – a kind of rival to such scores by Leroy Anderson – keeps the music moving, with martial and jazzy snaps, crackles, and pops to suit a universal taste for classical breakfast fare.

—Gary Lemco


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