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French Chamber Music for Harp and Ensemble
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Introduction and Allegro for harp, flute, clarinet and string quartet [10:20]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Sonata for flute, viola and harp [15:19]
Albert ROUSSEL (1869-1937)
Sérénade for flute, string trio and harp, Op.30 [15:48]
Joseph Marie Guy ROPARTZ (1864-1955)
Prélude, Marine et Chansons [11:37]
François-Adrien BOIELDIEU (1775-1834)
Concerto for Harp* [21:43]
Osian Ellis (harp); Melos Ensemble; Marie-Claire Jamet (harp)
Orchestre de Chambre Paul Kuentz de Paris/Paul Kuentz
rec. 1962, ADD stereo
ALTO ALC 1203 [75:03]


 
This is predominantly a full-sounding and imperiously lapel-close transfer of a classic Melos Ensemble LP of the early 1960s. Many of you will have learnt these works from that LP. The vinyl source appears to be in pretty good heart.
 
The repertoire is Gallic and runs to a lush and warming Ravel Introduction and Allegro. After hearing this your face feels warm, as if you have been standing close to a blazing log fire. Just the thing for English Winter sleet and Autumn gusts. Much the same can be said of the subtle intimations and contrasted poetry and drama of the three-movement Debussy Sonata for flute, viola and harp. Roussel’s Sérénade for flute, string trio and harp is also in three movements. The style is slightly sec by contrast with its disc-mates but full of interest and magical effects. The Ropartz Prélude, Marine et Chansons was for years the work by which that composer’s reputation hung like an invincible thread in the consciousness of recording collectors. It’s a lush and atmospheric work with a marine pastoral feeling typical of the composer’s Breton roots and as tumblingly magical as Louis Aubert’s Le Tombeau de Chateaubriand.
 
The Boieldieu comes as a sharp style-change. The three-movement concerto is graceful – all bone-china and Mozart. Ellis stands back and Jamet steps forward for the solo harp. The full orchestral accompaniment dictates a more distant audio image and Jamet’s harp is a more slender silvery presence by comparison with Ellis’s full lipped fruitfulness. It has its own different and playfully delicate magic.
 
Osian Ellis’s artistry is legendary and the playing heard here shows us how the legend came about. He was for many years principal harpist of the LSO. He attracted harp concertos from Hoddinott, Mathias, Alwyn (his extraordinary Lyra Angelica) and Holloway.
 
The Melos Ensemble was formed by outstanding musicians who held positions in notable orchestras and appeared as soloists. The core founders were clarinettist Gervase de Peyer, flautist Richard Adeney, viola player Cecil Aronowitz and cellist Terence Weil.
 
Alto cut no corners with the liner-note. Peter Avis in his English-only essay across four and a half pages sets the scene rather well.
 
Classic harp works in elite recordings from the middle of the last century.
 

Rob Barnett
 


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