Jean Martinon, Vol. I;  Zino Francescatti, Maureen Forrester  (Chicago)   (St Laurent Studio YSL T-505)
Item# C1479
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Jean Martinon, Vol. I;  Zino Francescatti, Maureen Forrester  (Chicago)   (St Laurent Studio YSL T-505)
C1479. JEAN MARTINON Cond. Chicago Orchestra: Images (Debussy), Live Performance, 19 Jan., 1967; w. ZINO FRANCESCATTI: Tzigane (Ravel), Live Performance, 17 March, 1966; w. MAUREEN FORRESTER: Poème de l'amour et de la mer (Chausson), Live Performance, 8 Feb., 1968, all Orchestra Hall. [This magical issue is one of the very best in the YSL Catalogue; the 'Images' is positively intoxicating! The Chausson presents Maureen Forrester at her very best, and Francescatti's 'Tzigane' sparkles with delight!] (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL T-505. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.


“I should make clear at the outset my connection with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and with these particular recordings. From 1985-2003 I was President of the CSO, and during that time I oversaw special releases on CD of performances in the Orchestra’s archives that I and a small committee felt were deserving of public issue. All three of these performances were included in those limited-edition releases, the Debussy in a set devoted to Martinon, and the Chausson and Ravel in a set devoted to CSO guest soloists. There is, I believe, no conflict of interest since I have not been on the CSO payroll since 2003, and the CSO copies of these have long been unavailable. It is clear that this will be a positive review because I was partly responsible for choosing this material from the orchestra’s extensive archives of broadcasts excellently engineered by Chicago radio station WFMT. If you perceive this as a conflict, you are of course free to read no further or ignore the recommendation.

Canadian Maureen Forrester was one of the great contraltos of her time (the 1950s through the early 1980s), particularly known for her singing of the music of Mahler. I am not aware of any commercial recording of her singing the Chausson, which means that this fills a real gap. She wraps her rich voice around Chausson’s sensuous writing, and at the same time articulates the text with pointed inflection and color. This certainly is one of the finest recordings in existence of this piece, especially because of Martinon’s stylish, elegant and lush accompaniment and the brilliant orchestral playing. Her style is perhaps more fulsome than some other French performances might be, but Chausson was definitely influenced by Wagner and to my ears the richness of the singing here is appropriate.

Martinon made an EMI recording of Debussy’s IMAGES with the French ORTF Orchestra, but this performance inhabits a different world. Perhaps the presence of an audience, or perhaps the virtuosity of the Chicago Symphony, or both, inspired the conductor. The studio recording offers clear, transparent textures, carefully judged balances, and elegant playing. What it doesn’t offer is a strong dramatic impact, a sense of commitment and the frisson that we find here. The CSO manages to sound like a French orchestra in terms of color and refinement, but at the same time this is a performance that seems to actually matter to the musicians. It is very hard to describe ‘élan’ in words, but listen to this performance and you know that you are hearing it. There is energy and commitment in every bar, a sense of exuberance where that is what the music calls for (the last movement of IMAGES for instance), and great intimacy when that is required. There is a French horn blip at 2:24 of the first movement (‘Gigues’) which goes by in a milli-second, and aside from that the performance has the technical polish of a highly edited studio recording. Martinon did once call the Chicago Symphony ‘the best I ever had’, and we can hear why in this performance.

As a kind of encore, we have a sizzling performance of Ravel’s TZIGANE with the French violinist Zino Francescatti. There are a number of live-performance recordings of this work with Francescatti and piano accompaniment, but I am not aware of any orchestral alternative. Martinon seems inspired by the soloist and everyone involved is clearly having a ball.

As is usual for St. Laurent Studio releases, there are no notes or texts, but good documentation of the sources, and very fine sound quality.”

- Henry Fogel, FANFARE

“In the words of one of his biographers, conductor Jean Martinon's performances ‘were distinguished by a concern for translucent orchestral textures, and sustained by a subtle sense of rhythm and phrasing’. Occasionally ‘he stressed a poetic inflection at the expense of literal accuracy’.

Martinon's first instrument was the violin; he studied at the Lyons Conservatory (1924-1925), then transferred to the Paris Conservatory, where he won first prize in violin upon his graduation in 1928. He subsequently studied composition with Albert Roussel, and conducting with Charles Munch and Roger Desormière. Until the outbreak of World War II Martinon was primarily a composer. His early substantial works include a Symphoniette for piano, percussion, and strings (1935); Symphony #1 (1936); Concerto giocoso for violin and orchestra (1937); and a wind quintet (1938). At the start of the war he was drafted into the French army. Taken prisoner in 1940, he passed the next two years in a Nazi labor camp. There, he wrote 'Stalag IX’ (Musique d'exil), an orchestral piece incorporating elements of jazz; during his internment, he also composed several religious works, including ’Absolve’, ‘Domine’ for male chorus and orchestra, and ‘Psalm 136’ (Chant des captifs), the latter receiving a composition prize from the city of Paris in 1946.

Upon his release from the Nazi camp Martinon became conductor of the Bordeaux Symphony Orchestra (from 1943 to 1945) and assistant conductor of the Paris Conservatory Orchestra (from 1944 to 1946), then associate conductor of the London Philharmonic (from 1947 to 1949). He toured as a guest conductor as well, although his U.S. début did not come until 1957, with the Boston Symphony giving the American premiere of his Symphony #2. Although he devoted as much time as he could to composing in the early postwar years -- producing a string quartet (1946), an ‘Irish’ Symphony (1948), the ballet ‘Ambohimang’a (1946), and the opera HÉCUBE (1949-1954) -- he was increasingly occupied with conducting, working with the Concerts Lamoureux (from 1951 to 1957), the Israel Philharmonic (from 1957 to 1959), and Düsseldorf Symphony Orchestra (from 1960 to 1966). Martinon resumed his career as a composer around 1960, writing his Violin Concerto #2 (1960) for Henryk Szeryng, his Cello Concerto (1964) for Pierre Fournier, and his Symphony #4 (‘Altitudes’), composed in 1965, for the 75th anniversary of the Chicago Symphony. He acknowledged Prokofiev and Bartók as strong influences on his scores, which meld Expressionism with French Neoclassicism. Martinon continued composing into the 1970s, but he seldom recorded any of his own music, with the notable exceptions of the Second Symphony, ‘Hymne à la vie’ (ORTF, for Barclay Inedits) and Fourth Symphony, ‘Altitudes"’ (Chicago SO, for RCA).

In 1963, he succeeded Fritz Reiner as head of the Chicago Symphony. Martinon's tenure there was difficult. In five seasons he conducted 60 works by modern European and American composers, and made a number of outstanding LPs for RCA, mostly of bracing twentieth century repertory in audiophile sound. Chicago's conservative music lovers soon sent him packing.

Martinon jumped at the chance to take over the French National Radio Orchestra in 1968; working with this ensemble he recorded almost the entire standard French repertory for Erato and EMI. His earlier Erato efforts that focused on such secondary but nevertheless interesting figures as Roussel, Pierné, and Dukas, whereas EMI assigned him integral sets of the Saint-Saëns symphonies and the orchestral works of Debussy and Ravel, among other projects. In 1974, he was appointed principal conductor of the Residentie Orkest in The Hague, but he died before that relationship could bear much fruit.”

- James Reel,

"Zino Francescatti (1902-91) was a musician's musician who won over audiences more by charm than prowess. His unmistakably French manner was out of vogue in an era-dominated by Russian-trained violinists, but so much the better for him. He was trained by his father, a concertmaster in Marseilles, and performed in the Straram Orchestra of Paris before coming late to a career as a soloist and chamber musician. He was not the last French violinist standing, though in the 1950s it could seem that way.

While his repertoire was wide, Francescatti's recordings naturally emphasized French music, where he figures as a latter-day Jacques Thibaud. He has the same rich, dark tone; but while his phrasing is also very lyrical, it tends to be more tempered and neoclassical. This seems more of a generational difference than anything else."

- David Radcliffe, AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, Sept./Oct., 2012

"Everything about Francescatti's approach to every piece he plays is unique. He does not follow any 'school' of interpretation, and the only similarities that I noticed from piece to piece is that he is an impeccable violinist, and as a musician he stretches the boundaries of expression while always playing with exquisite taste. There is something regal about his playing, and at the same time there is a deep sense of musical integrity - a kind of moral directive from within that compels him to play beautifully and honestly for the sake of the music and the sacred nature of the performance."

- Elaine Fine, AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, Sept./Oct., 2006

"Maureen Forrester, the Canadian contralto was revered for her opulent voice and musical elegance and especially acclaimed for her performances of Mahler; she sang the broader mezzo-soprano repertory, rightly considered herself a contralto, the lowest and rarest female voice. In her prime she was a classic contralto with a plummy, deep-set sound. Yet she had a full-bodied upper voice and could sing passagework in Handel arias with agility. She sang Mahler and German lieder with impeccable diction.

Ms. Forrester was little known in the United States when she made her New York recital debut at Town Hall in November 1956 with the pianist John Newmark, who became her longtime accompanist. She won rave reviews. 'Miss Forrester has a superb voice of generous compass and volume', Edward Downes wrote in THE NEW YORK TIMES. 'Its color ranges from a darkly resonant chest register to a brilliantly focused top with a middle register that she makes velvet soft or reedy according to her expressive intent'. At the time, the conductor Bruno Walter, who had been a close associate of Mahler's, was looking for a contralto to sing in a performance and a recording of Mahler's 'Resurrection' Symphony with the New York Philharmonic. He invited Ms. Forrester, then 27, to sing for him, and hired her. The recording is now considered a classic. Ms. Forrester went on to record Mahler's DAS LIED VON DER ERDE with Walter and soon became an acknowledged exponent of Mahler. She was best known for her recital work and performances with orchestras, and appeared with many leading conductors, including Eugene Ormandy, Herbert von Karajan and Leonard Bernstein."

- Anthony Tommasini, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 17 June, 2010