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Édouard LALO (1823-1892)
Overture - Le Roi d'Ys (1876) [11:52]
Symphonie Espagnole Op.21 (1875) [33:09]
Concerto Russe Op.29 (1879) [32:46]
Suisse Romande Orchestra/Ernest Ansermet (Le Roi)
Isaac Stern (violin), Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy
Gérard Poulet (violin), Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra/Vladimir Válek (Russe)
rec. Victoria Hall, Geneva, Switzerland, May 1960 (Le Roi) Philadelphia, 10 October 1956 (Symphonie) Prague, 5-6 January 1994 (Russe)
PRAGA DIGITALS PRD/DSD 350 094 [78:06]

This is a mixture of recordings from three different eras of technology, gathered together for the very good reason that all the music is by Édouard Lalo. Since so little of his music is available there are worse reasons.
 
The poorly translated and/or edited insert has a lot of interesting content and is worth reading, indeed is required reading to bring one up to speed on a man who can be firmly categorised with Richard Strauss' famous phrase about himself, a 'first class second-rate composer'. Lalo wrote a substantial amount for the violin supported as he was by the great virtuoso Pablo Sarasate, and two of these works were for him. As it happens Sarasate firmly rejected the Concerto Russe but was fond of the Symphonie Espagnole. This is probably the reason the latter gained more exposure and a permanent place in the violin repertoire.
 
The overture to Lalo's briefly successful opera Le Roi d'Ys was recorded by Decca in the golden days of the early 1960s when everything the Suisse Romande and Ansermet performed was received with enthusiasm by public and critics alike. This item was part of an LP of French Overtures released by Decca in early 1961 and subsequently reissued on Ace of Diamonds. The digital re-mastering has come up well apart from a bit of fizziness in the upper strings and one can hear the pleasant acoustic of the Victoria Hall around a lively and attractive performance. The overture itself is an enjoyable piece, by turns lyrical and dramatic. I wonder why pieces such as this no longer appear in our concert halls. This overture seems to have gone the way of so many short pieces by such as Suppé, Chabrier and Saint-Saëns which used to be popular in programmes of yesteryear.
 
The Symphonie Espagnole was recorded by Isaac Stern and the Philadelphia as early as 1956 and issued on Columbia in the USA as a mono LP. The stereo recording couldn't have been issued at that time which makes this interesting technically. It sounds quite realistic so probably derives from a genuine early experimental stereo master. The engineers seem to have been a bit scared of quiet passages because they boost the sound noticeably at times and overall it is a bit rough compared to the sound Decca achieved just four years later in Geneva. In the 1950s and 1960s Stern was a top player and made dozens of superb recordings across a huge repertoire. He is thoroughly at home here and gives as good a performance as it is possible to imagine. Even Sarasate would have been impressed. Stern has a fast vibrato and plays with muscular and passionate enthusiasm. The famous finale is a class act indeed.
 
The final piece, the Concerto Russe is much less well known. Here we have a recording which I guess derives from a Supraphon digital master. It is certainly a much more modern sound and reflects the way Czech engineers maintained very high standards of realism in their recordings long after the mainstream had gone for a doctored studio sound. The sound has clarity and impact, and zero background noise - with the rider that my ageing ears might be filtering some hiss. Poulet is an excellent violinist and is well supported by the always reliable Czech Radio Orchestra. The concerto opens well but quickly loses direction and we are reduced to attractive violinistic display with the orchestra chuntering along amiably. Despite occasional moments of imagination and some attractive Russian folk melodies the work never comes to much more than this. It is lively and tuneful and includes some exciting high passagework for the soloist but I found it essentially unmemorable. The fact that Sarasate firmly rejected the work gives support to my reaction.
 
Two out of the three works are worth your attention and the third is pleasant enough. Muted enthusiasm.
 
Dave Billinge 


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