Both sophisticated and splashy, the transcriptions from Lucien Caillet compel some virtuoso playing from various ensembles.
The Music of Lucien Caillet, Vol. 2 = Works by BACH; BUXTEHUDE; VIVALDI; DEBUSSY; RACHMANINOV; TCHAIKOVSKY; CAILLET – Symphony of Los Angeles/ Werner Janssen/ RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra/ Charles O’Connell/ Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra/ Eugene Ormandy/ Philadelphia Orchestra/ Eugene Ormandy/ Boston Pops Orchestra/ Arthur Fiedler – Pristine Adio PASC 532, 69:12 [www.pristineclassical.com] ****:
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Producer and Recording Engineer Mark Obert-Thorn assembles a second set of transcriptions by Lucien Caillet (1891-1985), clarinetist of the Philadelphia Orchestra during Leopold Stokowski’s tenure as music director. The performances, from a range of sympathetic conductors, embrace the years 1935-1952. Werner Janssen opens the program with the famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor, competing with the more renowned Stokowski transcription by injecting various brass riffs and swooping effects in the strings. The general impression evokes a kind of melodrama in music, similar to the use of the piece in the Fredric March version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Splashy and emotionally intense, the 1946 performance retains a colorful glamour that resounds with chills and thrills.
Charles O’Connell (1900-1962) served as an occasional conductor and arranger for RCA as well as one of the company’s executives. He leads the ubiquitous Air from the Orchestral Suite No. 3, a moderately paced, pious rendition that leans to intimacy rather than spectacle. Even before he assumed the helm of the Philadelphia Orchestra to succeed Stokowski, Eugene Ormandy felt impelled to lead Caillet versions of Bach in Minneapolis: here, he displays the power of winds and strings in the yearning 1611 Christoff Knoll chorale, Herlzlich tut mich verlangen, a devout testament of faith in a just afterlife.
The remaining selections of Bach, Buxtehude, Debussy, and Rachmaninov all derive from Philadelphia Orchestra collaborations with Eugene Ormandy. Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in B minor assumes a pastoral character in the streamlined sonorities of the Philadelphia winds and strings. Along with the Organ Chorale, the Buxtehude, and the Vivaldi transcription, this Prelude and Fugue went unissued on 78 rpm, and the Buxtehude work had been previously unpublished broadcast recording. The Buxtehude Passacaglia begins low enough in the strings and winds, over a pedal, that we at first believe we listen to an alternative firs few measures of Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony. Having acceded to Buxtehude, we then become swamped in the huge bass sonority against the aspiring high strings and flute, though the ostinato bass pattern never relents.
Caillet to a degree championed the music of Vivaldi, basically unknown except for a performance by Koussevitzky or Ormandy of the Concerto grosso in D minor. The concerto for two violins from L’Estro armonico becomes via Caillet a dramatic assortment of contrasting colors, especially in the brass and strings. The woodwinds, too, receive opportunities to thin out the textures over a hearty bass line. The coda to the opening Allegro proves particularly splashy. The haunting Larghetto e spiritoso allows oboe Marcel Tabuteau a moment in the sun, as well Caillet himself. The layered string effects of the final Allegro find their foil in the wind section. At one point Caillet retains the 2-violin-concerto sonority before unleashing his grand tutti. The persistent use of pulsating arpeggios might become hyper-romantic for some tastes, but the color effect strikes our virtuoso chord.
Debussy and Rachmaninov occupy the last set of Caillet transcriptions from Philadelphia. Ormandy led the orchestration of Clair de Lune three times, and here we have the first. With lush strings and harp, we are ready to sit once more through a screening of Ben Hecht’s fantasy Portrait of Jennie, with Jennifer Jones and Joseph Cotten. Ormandy recorded the three Rachmaninov preludes but once for 10” LP, and the long-play LP transfer omitted the C-sharp minor. The huge sonority and dark color of this transcription, given the lugubrious tempo—excepting the manically convulsive middle part—align the piece with a complete rendition of Boris Gudonov! The diaphanous Prelude in G Major finds orchestral representation in harp and solo violin; then the upper strings and flute intone the aerial capacities of Russian soul, though there are moments when I might ascribe the effects to Delius. The militant G minor Prelude struts and parades forward, a shimmering display for the Philadelphia brass and battery. Solo violin and harp, flute and horn and oboe invoke the more tender middle section prior to the da capo, which resolutely regains its aggressive tenor.
Arthur Fiedler with his Boston “Pops” holds pride of last place, rendering first the Tchaikovsky song None but the Lonely Heart, perhaps in recollection of the Cary Grant/Ethel Barrymore 1944 classic film. In Volume One of the Caillet restorations, Obert-Thorn had included the “Pop! Goes the Weasel Variations.” This tour concludes with “Happy Birthday to You,” which at first opens in brass and winds. Then a string pedal underlines the evolving melodic grit of the piece, although I can’t help seeing in mind’s eye Marilyn Monroe croon this one for President Kennedy, despite the orchestral flourishes. Fielder ends the piece with Wha-Wha riffs from his brass that launch a jazz-fantasy worthy of Cab Colloway and Paul Whiteman, combined.
The Music of Lucien Caillet, Vol. 2:
Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565
Air from Suite No. 3 in D Major, BWV 1068
Organ Prelude “Herzlich tut mich verlangen,” BWV 727
Prelude and Fugue in B minor, BWV 544
BUXTEHUDE: (arr. Caillet): Passacaglia in D minor, BuxWV 161
VIVALDI (arr. Caillet): Concerto for 2 Violin in A minor, Op. 3, No. 8
DEBUSSY (arr. Caillet): Clair de Lune
RACHMANINOV (arr. Caillet): 3 Preludes
TCHAIKOVSKY (arr. Caillet): None but the lonely heart, Op. 6, No.
CAILLET: The Birthday Fantasy