C1697. PAUL PARAY Cond. Detroit S.O.: Leonore Overture III (Beethoven); Variations & Fugue on a theme by Mozart (Reger); Manfred Overture; Symphony #4 in d (both Schumann). (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL T-646, Live Performances, 1960, 1961 & 1962. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
"This is no less than Volume 19 that Yves St.-Laurent has devoted to the worthy cause of the art of Paul Paray, whose famed Mercury recordings with the Detroit Symphony from 1953-62 set such high and enduring standards, particularly in but not limited to French repertoire. Here we have assembled an all-German program instead, which displays the conductor’s skills in this repertoire most felicitously. In the Beethoven and Schumann works, the tempos are brisk - indeed, blazingly fast in the main section of the Leonore Overture #3 - the rhythms and phrases precisely pointed, and the textures transparent. The results are always exhilarating, never merely breathless. Paray also has a keen understanding of how to structure drama, how to build and release tension, as demonstrated for example at the close of the Manfred Overture, where he not only decreases the tempo but also lowers the dynamics almost to a whisper, artfully depicting the protagonist’s final descent into despair and death. The result is even more striking than in his otherwise similar studio recording. Textual transparency is also a key feature of the Reger Variations, something which (most thankfully) alleviates that composer’s tendency toward logy density and opaqueness. While the Reger still remains on the fringes of the orchestral repertoire (being one of his few orchestral works to maintain even a marginal foothold there), this performance makes as strong a case for it as any.
The Schumann Fourth receives a particularly bracing reading, and one in which the contrasts to Paray’s 1953 commercial recording are particularly notable. Even though the timings of both the Symphony as a whole, and of all four movements individually, the live performance is less uniformly linear and more plastic in its shaping. Here the slow introduction to the first movement, already more of a moderato in the studio version, is a shade quicker yet; the main section has a positively febrile, nervous energy, but with an unexpected contrast of a slower tempo for the reprise of the main theme in the recapitulation. The Romanze has a subtle additional bloom created by taking the opening oboe solo a tad more slowly, and them imparting a touch more motion to the following string figures, while the concertmaster in his violin solo has more sweetness of tone here. The Scherzo likewise is more songful though hardly any less dramatic, helped by a better balanced recording in which the timpani strokes are properly undergirding punctuation instead of more overbearing cannon-shots. The trio section ripples along like a delicious spring breeze, and the transitions between it and the main sections are made more seamlessly. While the finales (including the prefatory transitions to the same) are similar overall, the live account injects occasional and unexpected moments of rubato (e.g., at about the 4:30 mark) that vary the texture a bit more. Especially given that the studio recording suffers from disagreeably harsh and sometimes murky sound (a rare failure by Mercury), this live performance is clearly preferable, sonically as well as interpretively.
The recorded sound throughout is fairly clear mono. (Yves St.-Laurent’s sound reprocessing philosophy is one of minimal intervention.) As usual, a basic tray card with archival photos is provided, along with tracks and timings, but no notes. Between the two superb performances of the Schumann works that are superior to their earlier studio counterparts, and the addition of two novelties to the Paray discography (the Beethoven and Reger pieces) in crackerjack performances, this disc warrants an urgent recommendation to all fans of Paray, and the attention of collectors of historic concert recordings in general."
- James A. Altena, FANFARE