French Orchestral Music
* Georges Bizet:
- Carmen Suite #1
- Patrie - Overture *
- Roma - Carnaval *
* Emmanuel Chabrier:
- Gwendoline - Overture
- Joyeuse Marche *
- Espana ^
* Gabriel Faure: Dolly, Op. 56 1
* Camille Saint-Saens: Le Rouet d'Omphale, Op. 31 *
Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Francaise/Thomas Beecham
*Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Thomas Beecham
^London Philharmonic Orchestra/Thomas Beecham
EMI 379985-2 Stereo/Mono 77:35
Summary for the Busy Executive: Une classique.
No matter how much you may enjoy a nice glut on, say, hasenpfeffer in
sour cream with dumplings, you may not want to go for a dessert of Baked
Alaska, rather a nice lemon ice. For me it's the same after I've been
listening to a lot of Wagner and Mahler. Sometimes, you just need to
clear the ear's palate, so to speak, and for me, this kind of French
music admirably fills the bill.
Sir Thomas Beecham had a special fondness for nineteenth-century
French music. His Carmen for EMI with de los Angeles and Gedda remains,
I think, the standard recording of that opera. After World War II,
Beecham, enraged by the punishing British tax code (Americans have no
idea), pulled up his British stakes (although he continued to conduct
British orchestras) and moved for good to the south of France. This
brought him into closer contact with the great Orchestre National de la
Radiodiffusion Francaise. Most of the recordings here come from that
happy collaboration. Some of the tracks, like the 1940 Espana with the
London Philharmonic, are obviously in mono sound. The ONRF recordings
are split, with the Gwendoline Overture in mono and the rest in stereo,
since the sessions occurred right on the cusp of the stereo era. Beecham's
own Royal Philharmonic recordings are all in mono, even at a relatively
late date, mainly because British EMI, strongly influenced by producer
Walter Legge, committed fully to stereo long after everybody else.
Apparently, Legge wanted to wait a few years to make sure the technology
wasn't a fad. Lest you think I merely want to bash Legge, I cheerfully
admit that though he misjudged stereo, he was dead on about quadraphonics.
Thank heavens Beecham's Carmen made it to stereo.
There's no such thing as a bad track on this disc. The brilliance and
drama of Beecham shine forth, from the barbaric strut of the toreadors
to the happy spring of the Joyeuse Marche. The Carmen Suite, predictably
wonderful, is matched by the whirl of Bizet's Roman carnival. Even
Patrie - the kind of piece French composers were practically compelled
to turn out on occasions like war commemorations and Bastille Day, Beecham
reveals as above the common run of such things, with its patriotic huzzahs
at the beginning and end and the remembrance of fallen heroes in the
middle. I've never been much of a fan of Saint-Saens' tone poem Le Rouet
d'Omphale (Omphale's spinning wheel), especially since I associate it
with the opening to the old radio serial "The Shadow," but Beecham's
performance stands out for its drama and sense of genuine fun.
Admired and honored by Ravel as an artistic model, Emmanuel Chabrier,
like just about every French composer of his generation, including
Debussy, succumbed to an infatuation with Wagner's operas. Fortunately,
he recovered. Nevertheless, on the evidence of the overture, his opera
Gwendoline bears the marks of the fever - the overheated emotion, the
Valhalla brass, the vertiginous ascents and plunges of the strings.
Beecham, however, turns it into one of the glories of French symphonic
music and makes you long to hear the complete opera. For many years,
I considered Paray and the Detroit on Mercury the ultimate on record.
It remains the best stereo version, I think, but Beecham - mono though
it may be - beats it hands down. The playing is stronger, the outlines
crisper, and the work has a greater sweep. This and the Carmen amount
to my two favorites on the program.
Beecham amounts to more than a grab-bag of epigrams and anecdotes. This
release allows you the opportunity of sampling him in some of his most
artistically congenial repertoire.
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