Bizet, Lalo, Bruch, Saint-Saens, Tailleferre, Ginastera, Martinon
various orchestras conducted by Jean Martinon
DGG 480 8926 (4CD)
TPP: 249’ 31”
reviewed by Neville Cohn
Many years ago, as a very young music producer with the South African Broadcasting Corporation, it fell to me to supervise a recording to be made by ace cellist Pierre Fournier with Lamar Crowson at the piano.
In the third movement of the sonata, Fournier’s intonation weakened very noticeably. It was an uncomfortable moment for me. I left the control room wondering how I ought to address the great man who was having an off-day. Before I’d said a word, he looked at me with a smile and said “the intonation?”. I stammered “Yes, Mr Fournier”. “We do it again, yes?”, asked the great man. I nodded and retreated to the control room. He gestured his readiness to begin, the red light went on and the recording began again. It was as near perfection as anyone could have hoped for.
In Saint-Saens’ Cello Concerto No 1, Fournier most certainly has no problem with intonation. Indeed, the persuasiveness of his artistry makes this rather shallow work sound far better than it in fact is. And in Lalo’s Cello Concerto, with Martinon coaxing a powerful response from the Orchestre des Concerts Lamoureux, Fournier sounds inspired.
An oddity is Lalo’s Norwegian Rhapsody for orchestra. It does not sound in the least Scandinavian.
Recently, the West Australian Opera Company’s decision to drop a scheduled production of Bizet’s Carmen because – horrors!! – it would feature some of the chorus smoking cigarettes in front of a tobacco factory, triggered an outraged response from opera aficionados. I wonder how the tobacco nazis would react to the fifth movement from Lalo’s First Rhapsody from his ballet Namnouna. It’s title is Valse de la cigarette!
Both Rhapsodies here recorded make for delightful listening.
Harpist Nicanor Zabaleta is in peak form, bringing to Saint-Saens’ rather superficial Morceau de concert such rhythmic control and tonal clarity, especially of glissandi, that, as Fournier does with the same composer’s concerto, he makes it sound far better than it is. It’s rather like the sonic equivalent of painting by numbers but offered in a way that would charm even the grumpiest bird from its twig.
More significant is that rarity, the Concertino by Germaine Tailleferre (the least known of Les Six – and the only woman in the group). Its busy, bustling note streams require a harpist with an iron nerve to negotiate Tailleferre’s score as well as a conductor with the skill to hold things together. Zabaleta and Martinon are on top form here.
Zabaleta’s account of Ginastera’s Harp Concerto recorded on LP in 1960 is only now available on CD – and it draws the listener at once into the composer’s unique creative world. From abrupt, urgent and rapid repeated chords to the quietly mysterious close of the first movement, Zabaleta and Martinon are as one in music terms. The slow movement is an introverted, melancholy meditation followed by a lengthy cadenza. It leads into an upbeat, noisy finale.
Martinon’s own Violin Concerto is ushered in in intensely dramatic terms with Henryk Szeryng an inspired choice as soloist. Whether in the hair-raisingly treacherous cadenza or the interplay between soloist and orchestra, it is gratifyingly clear that Rafael Kubelik presiding over Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks has the full measure of the work – and that Szeryng is wondrously on-form. One can only speculate what riches might have emerged from Martinon’s pen had he gone into composition full time or had a longer life. He died in his sixties..
A selection of some of Bizets’s most loved works comes across in frankly delightful fashion, Martinon seeming positively to revel in the Symphony in C, Jeux d’enfants and La Jolie fille de Perth.
There are first rate liner notes by Tully Potter.