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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Swan Lake, Op. 20 (1875-1876) [90:47]
The Nutcracker, Op. 71 (1891-1892); Suite No.71a [21:21]; Suite No.2 [25:15]
London Symphony Orchestra/Anatole Fistoulari (Swan Lake)
Paris Conservatoire Orchestra/Anatole Fistoulari (Nutcracker)
rec. January and March 1952, Kingsway Hall, London (Swan Lake) and June 1951, La Maison de la Mutualité, Paris (Nutcracker)
ELOQUENCE 482 5225 [75:34 + 62:13]

As Raymond Tuttle writes in his booklet note, Fistoulari made three recordings of music from Swan Lake. The performance under review is the first of these traversals made in 1952 in mono and issued in June of that month. It’s always been well-regarded and inevitably a small amount of interest accrues to the drafting in of Campoli to re-record the violin solos of the LSO’s leader, George Stratton, which producer John Culshaw, not liking his tone, wanted redone. Stratton, whose eponymous quartet had recorded Elgar’s String Quartet and Piano Quintet – records that had given the dying composer solace - was so furious that he gave up leadership of the orchestra soon after the Culshaw debacle. Working in stereo Fistoulari returned to the work in Amsterdam with the Concertgebouw and their leader Steven Staryk, and finally in 1973 he recorded it with Ruggiero Ricci and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra in Phase 4 stereo – but by then his career, though he lived on until 1995, was pretty much over.

This first account is not complete but recalls in its brio, rhythmic vitality and lyric intensity those many recordings of ballet music that Fistoulari made for Mercury. He brings ample flair to the music without milking it and proves biting but flexible when necessary. Fortunately, Culshaw oversaw excellent harp placement and the percussion sits well in the Kingsway Hall acoustic. As for Campoli, he is as sweetly seductive as ever. A word too about the orchestra’s cello principal, who also solos, Willem de Mont. Like Stratton he was another excellent chamber player; he’d played alongside David Martin and Frederick Riddle in Harry Blech’s string quartet before the war.

The previous year Decca had recorded Fistoulari in the Nutcracker suites with the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra. They reinforce how perceptive was his conducting of such music, how well-paced and dancer-friendly. He was a fine accompanist, it almost goes without saying, as several major-league recordings demonstrate. Indeed, a recent Decca release of a Nikolai Orloff disc shows Fistoulari marshalling the National Symphony in Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto; a losing battle because of the recording quality but no fault of the conductor. He was a fine Tchaikovsky interpreter.

This enjoyable twofer shows Fistoulari in the best possible (mono) light.

Jonathan Woolf

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