C1938. MAURICE RAVEL, HENRI TOMASI, FLORENT SCHMITT & PHILLIPPE GAUBERT Cond. Their own Works. (England) Dutton CDBP 9789. Transfers by Michael J. Dutton. Long out-of-print, Final Sealed Copy! - 765387978921
“These valuable resurrections of early composer-conducted recordings are from 1930s Paris, along similar lines, though with different performances, to a VAI recording from a few years ago.
Arching over all four works is the French adulation for the exotic. This streamed from the then wide-flung corners of the French colonies and various world expositions (especially Paris 1889). In this the French musical world was not alone.
Dutton have done wonders with these 80 year old recordings. The Ida Rubinstein-inspired Ravel BOLÉRO already has iconic status but here the CEDAR process smiled on the no doubt distressed originals. I do not recall any previous reissue sounding as clean as this – true, perspectives shift as 78 sides change, but the overall remorseless trajectory is fully in place. This would have been the world premiere recording but for Piero Coppola having recorded it the day before the Ravel sessions.
Tomasi's TAM-TAM is something of an exotic temple rite with tolling ostinati and an ambience of Stravinskian devastation (c.f. LE SACRE). Wild Bakstian abandon is lofted by choral war-cries. The unnamed solo soprano comes in for ‘La chanson des sables’ which rises from ecstatic reflection to wild incessant rhythms, chorally goaded punctuation and wild (well, fairly wild) shouts from the choir. There’s then a return to the dripping sultriness of the beginning. Tomasi, who in the 1930s was music director of French National Radio’s colonial service, wrote the music from which this was drawn for a radio feature. We are told that the mise-en-scène is the Oubangui River and the region surrounding the border between the French and Belgian Congo. Tomasi’s is a name to note down for further appraisal. There are eleven operas in total and quite a few more tone poems.
Schmitt’s LA TRAGÉDIE DE SALOMÉ boils slowly and makes the most of that Antar-style treasure of a melody in the Prelude. There's bright aggressive liveliness in the ‘Danse des Perles’, Rimskian effusions in the groaning and surging ‘Les enchantement sur la mer’, a return to that irresistible first movement melody in ‘Danse des éclairs’ and a perfunctory (only 1.46) wind devil of a stamping finale in ‘Danse de l'effroi’ which crashes and smashes in ruthlessly tempestuous fashion.
This present recording of Philippe Gaubert’s LES CHANTS DE LA MER might be seen as in the same region as Debussy’s LA MER. It is a sequence of three tone poems – ‘Chants et parfums’ – ‘La ronde sur la falaise’ and ‘Là-bas très loin sur la mer’ - there's a title for you. This recording has been reissued previously on an all-Gaubert double on Alpha 801 VAI. This is a work you will need to hear if you have any appetite for Rimsky-Korsakov or Debussy or Aubert's glorious Tombeau de Chateaubriand or Nystroem's vividly beautiful Sinfonia del Mare. It's a diaphanous quilt of music well in touch with the mirror of the seas and the oceanic enigmas in which The Self is lost and fulfilled. Broadly you’re connected to the worlds of Ravel and Debussy. I thought of Frank Bridge in the ‘Falaise scherzo’. The final ‘Là-bas’ movement is cinematographic in its gestural magnificence and there's a splash of Respighi too. Sorry about all these names: it’s just to give you some crude idea of what to expect.
A superb collection well worth running to ground for the jaded yet open-minded. It's typically well documented by Lewis Foreman. I am only sorry to have taken so long to get to this treasure of a disc which, at this remove in time, is going to be difficult to source. At the time of writing, Dutton indicate that they have a small number left. If you see it secondhand do snap it up.
- Rob Barnett, MusicWebInternational
The sound of Dutton's disc of early twentieth century French orchestral pieces conducted by their composers, recorded between 1930 and 1935, is surprisingly good: full, rounded, and free of interference. That makes it easier to enjoy and assess the composers' works and their performances as interpreters. Some of the music is justifiably obscure. Henri Tomasi's TAM-TAM, a 1931 symphonic poem for chorus, soloists, and orchestra is an interesting cultural relic, an exercise in musical primitivism in its depiction of life in colonial West Africa, with what would have been an astonishing amount of repetition for its era, but of material far less engaging than that of BOLÉRO. Florent Schmitt's ballet La TRAGÉDIE DE SALOMÉ appeared just a few years after Strauss' opera. Musically it's far tamer (with a movement, ‘Les enchantments sur la mer’, that's transparently a rip-off of Debussy's LA MER), but with a scenario that's more lurid, or at least more active: its final movement ‘is heralded by the storm breaking; violent seas, sandstorms and trees crashing down while the distant mountain erupts...Salomé is destroyed in the tumult’, and all this depicted in a minute and a half of music. Philippe Gaubert's 1929 LES CHANTS DE LA MER, which has something of the sound of a film score, manages to be evocative without evoking Debussy. The album's primary raison d'être is Ravel's performance of BOLÉRO, one of the few recordings he made. The performance, with the Lamoureux Orchestra is rhythmically crisp and stately, but the composer allows the solo players in the first section room for expressive rubato. Ravel's reading is essentially reserved, and he doesn't bring the piece to the cataclysmic ending that has become standard; in fact, he is on record as taking offense at Toscanini's building to a big climax with an accelerando at the end. All this raises the question as to whether composers are necessarily the best interpreters of their own work, but wherever one comes down on that issue, it's intriguing to hear Ravel's own take on his most famous piece.”
- Stephen Eddins, allmusic.com