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Design Review: Volume 4, Issue 3 (June-July 1952)

Gramophone Notes

page 62

Gramophone Notes

Our News this month is mainly of long-playing records, since, owing to one of the numerous industrial bottlenecks to which we have regrettably became accustomed, there has been scarcely an official release of standard discs here since before Christmas. The mighty E.M.I. organisation (H.M.V., Columbia and Parlophone) has awakened from its beauty sleep and announced the issue of its first L.P. records in October, but meanwhile the ‘78’ disc is far from dead, and I might mention a few delectable items which must find their way here sooner or later. First, Madeleine Grey's records of Songs of Auvergne (Columbia LCX 151-3). The Auvergne is a remote district of France whose inhabitants have resisted the influence of surrounding peoples, and whose folk music has an earthy tang and an endless fascination. The tunes on these records were arranged by the composer Canteloube, and have been unforgettably sung by the great French artist Madeleine Grey (who was musically associated with both Debussy and Ravel), accompanied by an orchestra under Elie Cohen. These records are all twenty years old, but have long been prized as collectors' rarities—as one who has vainly tried to obtain them for years I must salute the consideration of Columbia in making them available at last.

Of the multifold recording activities of the last few years, none have been more productive or spectacular than the great revival of the music of Antonio Vivaldi. I recall being excited ten years or more ago, when Ezra Pound announced that no fewer than 300 Vivaldi concerti were known to be gathering dust in a library at Turin. After the war was over, the first signs of activity came from Venice, where the musicologist and conductor Angelo Ephoikian and the great composer Malipiero have been assiduously uncovering, editing and performing the music of this grand master. The task of identifying the Vivaldi concerti, which have appeared with a rush on records, must have been one of the most vexing to face the co-authors of the new World's Encyclopaedia of Recorded Music, due from Messrs. Sidgwick and Jackson at any moment as I write this. My latest American L.P. catalogue lists 31 of them, plus an oratorio, a mass, and some odd sonatas.

No one is going to claim that everything Vivaldi wrote is of permanent value, but we have a fascinating sample of his work in a recently released Decca disc (LXT 2600) containing four violin concerti collectively labelled The Four Seasons, to which disc I would carnestly commend the attention of all with interest in early 18th century music. The music abounds in naive descriptive effects that cannot fail to delight, and the performance and recording by the redoubtable Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, under Munchinger, are of uniform excellence. This music offers an imposing full-scale introduction to Vivaldi, and those whose appetites demand more will be well catered for when at last arrangements are made for, the distribution here of the records put out by the Nixa company, which pays special attention to the work of the Venetian master, and which is responsible for the release, among other things, of his dramatic oratorio Juditha Triumphans.

Massenet's opera Manon (Decca LXT 2618-20) is a less than completely satisfying issue which never-theless cannot be entirely disregarded. Much has been made of the fact that the recording is disfigured by the presence of a narrator, who chips in at odd times to tell us (in French) what is happening on the stage. I know one or two people who have passed the set by just because of this, and yet the commentary is surely less offensive in French than in English (where after about the second playing it would become quite unbearable to us), and, as it is sometimes delivered over the music, we can easily persuade ourselves that it is ‘part of the show’. I must point out also that the aggregate amount of speaking is about 5 minutes in a performance lasting all of two hours. A more serious cause for complaint lies in the way the opera has been abridged for recording purposes—obviously each scene has been made to fit into its allotted space, and it seems that L.P., with its fixed 10-inch and 12-inch dimensions, and an understandable desire to avoid ‘odd sides’ in a long work, has been imposing its own set of time limits, as did the ‘78’ system—in other words, the tyranny of the 4 minutes has become the tyranny of the 24 minutes. The cutting is quite ruthless in some places; for example, the important colloquy between the Conte des Grieux and his son in the church scene has been reduced to a flat statement on the part of the former. But those who had their first acquaintance with Manon as given by the visiting Italian opera company will find an entire scene (the open-air fete in Act 3) which is always omitted in Italian versions, and this contains some of the most sparkling music in the score. Despite the drawbacks mentioned above, the performance never errs on points of musical style; it is thoroughly and deliciously French, the Manon (Janine Micheau), Chevalier des Grieux (Libero de Luca) and Lescaut (Roger Bourdin) are right under the skin of their roles, and Albert Wolff, a veteran of opera house and recording studio, draws some ravishingly beautiful sounds from the Opera Comique orchestra and chorus. There is—or was—an older and more complete recording available on about 20 Columbia records, but the compactness and really excellent style of the new L.P. would seem to outweigh its minor disadvantages; and it can be warmly commended to all but the fanatical Manon devotee, who may choose to await the issue of a more complete version, unaccompanied by the silly innovation of a spoken commentary.