Georges Pretre on CD – Bizet and Ravel

0 of 5 stars

Symphony in C
Daphnis et Chloe – Suite No.2
La valse

Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Georges Pretre

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: June 2001

Georges Pretre was born in 1924. He studied at the Paris Conservatoire and cut his conducting teeth at provincial opera houses in his native country. An operatic and symphonic conductor, he’s possibly best known for his recordings with Callas of Carmen and Tosca. He remains active and wonderfully musical – as a recent recording of Strauss’s Capriccio testifies. Although Pretre – like his older and no less ’wonderful’ contemporary Jean Fournet – belongs to a group of musicians that connoisseurs appreciate, the man-in-the-street, flattered by the deceptions of much-feted ’bigger’ names, hasn’t necessarily allowed Pretre’s personality to infiltrate received perceptions.

Anyone who’s seen Pretre conduct will know of his total commitment. His is a happy marriage of involvement, ear for colour, dynamic contrast, sensitivity and expressive phrasing. These hallmarks are evident in Daphnis, which reports a vivid atmosphere, great attention to instrumental detail and an expressional volatility that is manifested here in the ’breathing’ slow music and thrilling ’danse generale’. Throughout, Pretre compels attention with a theatrical import that is never superficial or applied – he has peered beneath the surface of the music, read the small print, and gives the listener an individual, echt-realisation.

These Stuttgart Radio tapings – natural, well-balanced sound – are from concerts; Pretre is the Symphony Orchestra’s Honorary Conductor. A former Principal Conductor was Sergiu Celibidache. At the beginning of Daphnis (1997), Pretre’s deeply considered response to colour and sound reveals a kinship with that great maestro – the fastidious harp ripples (from 0’05”), the veiled string sonority, and the suggestive double bass glissandos (0’20”-0’33”); there are countless such felicitations en route.

Sometimes, Pretre’s volatility loses focus – I would have welcomed more of the brass ’kiss’ (at 3’54”) when Daphnis and Chloe are united. Similarly in La valse (’95), the potent atmosphere suggested at the opening – the ’ghostly’ harp at 0’49” for example – isn’t always followed-through with the same concern for musical fabric as the emotional temperature rises; yet a wealth of singular detail and inflection will be heard. What a masterpiece La valse is – this great work about destruction, the nineteenth-century Vienna ballet-setting surely a metaphor for music written in the aftermath of the First War. Pretre does well in delaying the cataclysm by prettifying the earlier sections to an unusually decorous degree; the tragic denouement is urgently signalled at 9’22” – note the baleful, tenuto trombones from 9’31” deliberately out-of-sync with the whirling surroundings – before the free-fall to chaos is vividly chartered as an unstoppable accelerando.

A tad more breadth to that coda might have intensified the shock though. Not that Pretre lacks for poise as his delightful account (1991) of Bizet’s evergreen symphony displays, an elegant, lightly-tripping reading of huge affection for one of the loveliest works in the repertoire. The gorgeous oboe melody of the first movement is tinged here with nostalgia (beautifully played) and heard with pleasure a second time when Pretre repeats the exposition. He obtains a delicacy of response from the Stuttgart musicians that is elegantly French; leaving aside the occasional scrappy phrase, the playing is lucid and pastel-coloured. Not that Pretre sees Bizet’s Symphony as lightweight – there’s plenty of emotion here, especially in the spaciously-moulded slow movement, which once again features the oboe (a tenor aria!); the fugal section (from 5’30”) is in tempo and most persuasively phrased. The finale, taken very rapidly (alas, no repeat), has great dash and precision; note how Pretre yields at 1’07” to shape the second subject so winsomely.

You’ll have spotted I rather like this CD! I would take it as a personal favour if Hanssler could unearth more Pretre material – a conductor of character and insight.

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