This is one of the most enjoyable box sets in the Decca catalogue with a wide array of music under the exquisite and inimitable baton of the great Jean Martinon. Often underrated and perhaps slightly forgotten, this French conductor was a cultured artist in the very sense of the word, bringing a refined approach to music making that is immortalized in these fabulously sounding Decca recordings.
Adam's 'Giselle' starts things off and if we can lament the lack of a complete recording by Martinon, this arrangement is definitely an excellent one. The Strauss ballet is also very exciting and all the famous tunes come up trumps in Roger Desormiere's arrangement, again recorded in what can only be termed as stunning sound.
The collection of French opera overtures is recorded in mono but Martinon's interpretations surely challenge Albert Wolff's similarly famous accounts, especially in Herold's 'Zampa' or Adam's 'Si J'Etais Roi'. The Offenbach works also come across as exciting and colourful and with John Culshaw producing, they are surely worth investigating.
Martinon had a penchant for Czech music and this is reflected in his boisterous performances of Dvořák's Slavonic Dances, somewhat rare recordings but again, beautifully engineered by the master Kenneth Wilkinson. The disc continues with forthright performances of Weinberger's 'Schwanda the Bagpiper' – Polka and Fugue and a similarly exquisite reading of Rossini's Ballet Music from 'William Tell'. Liszt's 'Totentanz' with the young Peter Katin at the piano rounds off a most satisfying disc.
We return to France on the fourth disc although these works were recorded by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in rather spotlit sound. Lalo's 'Namouna' suites come across well and there is creativity and colour in Meyerbeer's 'Les Patineurs' and Massenet's 'Le Cid'.
I wont write much about the Prokofieff symphonies, these are excellent interpretations also available on Testament, whilst the Rimsky-Korsakoff 'Capriccio espagñol' holds fond memories for me as it was one of my very first experiences of this composer on a long lost World of the Great Classics LP. The Shostakovich recordings are also very well done indeed.
The seventh disc is a straight replica of a Classic Sound CD that came out in 1996 and includes some fine performances of Ibert, Saint Saens, Bizet and Berlioz with the latter's overtures particularly enticing. I wasn't very much at home with Martinon's 'Pathétique', the only recording with the VPO on this set, rather bland at least in my opinion. Borodin's Second Symphony on the other hand is full of colour and passion whilst the concertos that make up the last disc are all very well played and recorded to round off a marvelous set that surely must be on the shopping list of any enthusiast for historic recordings preserved in stunning sound.
Copyright © 2006, Gerald Fenech