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Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
Dido and Aeneas (1689)
Irma Kolassi (mezzo) – Dido
Yvon le Marc’Hadour (baritone) – Aeneas
Gisèle Vivarelli (soprano) – Belinda
Hugues Cuénod (tenor) – Spirit
Marguerite Pifteau (mezzo) – Sorceress
Ellen Benoit (mezzo) – First Witch
Juliette Bise (mezzo) – Second Witch
Adrienne Comte (soprano) – First Woman
Nastia Diakoff (soprano) – Second Woman
Maroussia le Marc’Hadour (harpsichord)
Student Choir of the Geneva Conservatoire
Members of the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Pierre Capdevielle
rec. Geneva radio studios, 11 January 1951
CASCAVELLE VEL 3107 [60:39]


The existence of this Geneva radio broadcast of Dido and Aeneas was unknown to me before the arrival of Cascavelle’s release. Perhaps admirers of Irma Kolassi have been aware of it or maybe even the seemingly indestructible (at the time of writing) Hugues Cuénod. Still, the broadcast was made in Geneva in 1951 and the performance was given by members of the Suisse Romande conducted by Pierre Capdevielle.

The brisk notes allude to two previous British performances on disc. The first was the 1935 Decca directed by Clarence Raybould and the second a 1945 Constant Lambert HMV set though a typo has converted Joan Hammond to John. Whether Capdevielle and his Geneva forces were aware of them or of the pioneering work undertaken in baroque performance practice by Boyd Neel and his band – the orchestra on the Decca set – is, on the basis of this performance, highly unlikely.

This is a mournful, slow and very old fashioned performance even for the day. That wouldn’t especially concern me, as I rather like big boned baroque performances from earlier generations. The problem is that the concentration on super-romanticised string moulding comes at the expense of rhythmic direction. It’s a very static, almost Attic performance, as frozen as a Greek vase.

Let’s not worry about Lambert – because back in 1935 Raybould, under the overall direction of Herbert Foss, had these things worked out. String playing is lightly textured, rhythms are relatively well pointed, the chosen soloists have discreet, chamber sized voices, the direction is lissom and forward-moving. In contrast the Geneva performance jog-trots, string weight is Bruch-like, the harpsichord sounds like one of Mme. Landowska’s finest and the action remains static. The choruses are of a piece; rather beefy and heavy. But at least it’s a consistent view and it’s true that does have powerful expressive moments.

The mezzo Irma Kolassi is the main focus – noble, powerful but not really the right voice for the role. When I am laid in earth is tremendously powerful but has an inappropriate floridity at times – and some gushing acompanying string figures – that paradoxically make it seem less intense than Nancy Evans’s lighter 1935 performance. Yvon le Marc’Hadour is Aeneas and he’s rather more the lover than Roy Henderson’s bank manager – but he’s also hobbled by the leaden direction. Hugues Cuénod is the Spirit and briefly he brings his inimitable high tenor to the fray. The witches scene is rather campy-curdly – the Decca is notably straight and avoids embarrassment – and we do tend to limp our way to the end via portentous pianissimi in the Prelude for the Witches and a very lackadiasical Come away fellow sailors in the final Act.

There’s a degree of distortion from time to time that proves intermittently distracting though otherwise the recording is very decent for the vintage. Obviously this isn’t one for the generalist. Maybe for Kolassi Kompletists.

Jonathan Woolf


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