Musique Francais = AUBER: Fra Diavolo Overture; GOUNOD: Faust–4 excerpts; SAINT-SAENS: Carnival of the Animals–4 excerpts; Samson et Dalila, Op. 47–Bacchanale; ROUSSEL: Bacchus et Ariane, Op. 43–Suite No. 2 – Vienna State Orchestra/Hermann Scherchen (Auber; Saint-Saens’ Carnival)/Royal Opera House Orchestra, Covent Garden/Alexander Gibson (Gounod)/ Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham (Bacchanale)/Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Jean Martinon (Roussel)
HDTT HDCD168, 51:45 [CD-R, also avail. as 96K DVD-R – www.highdeftapetransfers.com] ****:
Formidable! You’d best exert your French accent for this glowing assemblage of Gallic fare, which ranges from the relatively conservative figure of Gounod to the more exotic languor of Saint-Saens and Roussel. No sources dates are provided, but Westminster 4-track prerecorded tape is the likely source for the brilliant Hermann Scherchen readings, of Auber’s rat-a-tat-tat of Fra Diavolo’s opening measures will quite light your cigarette from afar, a well-aimed pistol shot! The four all-too-brief excerpts from Carnival of the Animals include a truly Devonian world in the Aquarium, and the Fossils’ bones leap out with a hunger for the entire Danse Macabre. The Swan opts for full string treatment rather than solo cello.
I was truly impressed with the re-processing on what must be a Decca 4-track tape for the Alexander Gibson excerpts from Gounod’s Faust: Ensemble; Dance of the Nubians; Helen’s Dance; and Bacchanale. The pulsating rhythms of Dance of the Nubians quite startled me in their sonic urgency, and the Bacchanale sports some fine ensemble from the Covent Garden brass. The Beecham Bacchanale from Samson et Dalila (an EMI 2-track tape?) used to be a standard “lollipop” for Beecham devotees, with its wonderful applications of woodwinds, harp, and tympani, as well as brilliant string sound from the RPO, plucked and bowed. The listing on the HDTT label is for the “Dance of the Priestesses of Dagon,” not included–too bad, if only for the sheer delicacy of effect Beecham could raise from his players. The syncopations of the Bacchanale middle section, with its beautiful, rising theme of love, waft around us in sonic equivalents of luxurious flowers.
But it is Jean Martinon’s Chicago Symphony that steals the berries, the recording taken from RCA 4-track tape. Rarely do the angular, modal harmonies from Roussel receive such fervent treatment, the sound only a breath away from the purple prose of Richard Strauss and Salome. I would recommend this pungent reading beyond those of Charles Munch, and that concedes much! While critic Claudia Cassidy made Martinon’s career a misery, she–it seems to me–missed the treasures of what lay before her. Every instrumental voice in the Bacchus et Ariane Suite No. 2 brings an inflamed sense of the voluptuous rite enacted in invisible pantomime through this colorful score. Listen to the trumpet triplets over the battery that suddenly break off into woodwind eddies and flute intoxicants. The CSO has not often achieved such luminous éclat in French music, and this is the incarnation you and your sound system require. Good appetite, in whatever medium you please.
— Gary Lemco