Jean Martinon – Complete Decca Recordings

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Giselle [edited Büsser]
Si j’étais roi – Overture
Béatrice et Bénédict – Overture
Benvenuto Cellini – Overture
La Damnation de Faust – Hungarian March
Overture – Le carnaval Romain
Overture – Le corsaire
Jeux d’enfants – Petite suite
Le Calife de Bagdad – Overture
La dame blanche – Overture
Symphony No.2 in B minor
Slavonic Dances – Op.46 [complete] & in C, Op.72/7
Ballade for piano and orchestra, Op.19
Concertino for piano and orchestra
Zampa – Overture
Namouna – Ballet Suites 1 & 2
Le Cid – Ballet Music
Capriccio brillant, Op.22
Rondo brillant, Op.29
Les patineurs
Barbe-bleu – Overture
La belle Hélène – Overture
La grande duchesse de Gérolstein – Overture
Le mariage aux lanternes – Overture
Orphée aux enfers – Overture
Russian Overture, Op.72
Symphony No.5 in B flat, Op.100
Symphony No.7 in C sharp minor, Op.131
Capriccio espagnol, Op.34
The Tale of Tsar Saltan – March
William Tell – Ballet Music
Danse macabre, Op.40
Le rouet d’Omphale, Op.31
Piano Concerto No.2 in G minor, Op.22
Symphony No.1 in F minor, Op.10
The Age of Gold – Suite
Johann Strauss II/Désormière
Le beau Danube [complete ballet]
Symphony No.6 in B minor, Op.74 (Pathétique)
Schwanda the Bagpiper – Polka & Fugue

Peter Katin (piano)

Kathleen Long (piano)

Moura Lympany (piano)

Israel Philharmonic Orchestra
London Philharmonic Orchestra
London Symphony Orchestra
Paris Conservatoire Orchestra
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Jean Martinon

Recorded between 1951 and 1960 in Decca Studios, West Hampstead, London; Kingsway Hall, London; La Maison de la Mutualité, Paris; Mann Auditorium, Tel Aviv; Sofiensaal, Vienna

Reviewed by: Andrew Achenbach

Reviewed: September 2006
CD No: DECCA 475 7209
(9 CDs)
Duration: 11 hours 4 minutes

Lyon-born Jean Martinon (1910-76) studied violin, harmony and composition (under Jules Boucherit, Vincent d’Indy and Albert Roussel respectively) at the Paris Conservatoire. The war interrupted Martinon’s budding solo and conducting career (conscripted in 1940, he was interned by the Nazis until 1943), his big break on the podium coming in 1946 when he stood in for an indisposed Charles Munch on a tour of England by the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra.

His gifts were duly noted by the London Philharmonic, which appointed him its Associate Conductor. Theirs proved an inspired and happy partnership, as you can hear on the famous February 1951 sequence of nine overtures by Offenbach, Boieldieu, Hérold and Adam to be found on CD 2. Fizzing energy, glowing affection and painstaking preparation in perfect accord – rip-roaring stuff! Three months later, Martinon and the LPO teamed up with Moura Lympany at Decca’s West Hampstead Studios for a strong and unflustered performance of Saint-Saëns’s Second Piano Concerto (a pity, though, about the slight drop in pitch around 8 minutes into the opening movement).

There are five more concertante offerings, all set down within Kingsway Hall and dating from February 1954. Kathleen Long lends ideally pellucid and poetic advocacy to Fauré’s Ballade and Jean Françaix’s Concertino (utterly entrancing, both), and we also get thoroughly enjoyable accounts of Liszt’s Totentanz and Mendelssohn’s Capriccio brillant and Rondo brillant featuring the 24-year-old Peter Katin.

1955 brought cherishable treatment for the first two ballet suites from Lalo’s 1881 ballet Namouna (an enchanting confection and Martinon speciality – he went on to re-record them in stereo for DG), in addition to no less marvellous versions of Le Beau Danube (music by the Strauss family, arranged by another of Martinon’s mentors, Roger Désormière), the ‘Polka and Fugue’ from Weinberger’s “Schwanda the Bagpiper” and ballet music from Rossini’s “William Tell”. Although hardly the last word in corporate virtuosity, the LPO respond with unflagging zest, audibly galvanised by Martinon’s charismatic direction.

By the time Martinon was contracted again to record for Decca, he had already been offered the post of Principal Conductor with the Israel Philharmonic. Eagle-eyed collectors will already have acquired that partnership’s hugely boisterous May 1958 coupling of ballet music from Massenet’s Le Cid (try the hell-for-leather second half of the ‘Madrilène’) and the Meyerbeer/Lambert Les Patineurs when it recently resurfaced on an Australian Eloquence reissue (476 2742) harnessed to Martinon’s endearingly racy yet controlled selection (with an excitingly geared-up LSO) of Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances (including all of Opus 46).

The latter enterprise is one of a clutch of memorable LSO/Martinon offerings for Decca (all taped in Kingsway Hall during 1958), the most celebrated of which remains a Borodin 2 notable for its giddy propulsion and lusty theatricality. Similar characteristics inform a dynamic, deliciously pointed Rimsky-Korsakov Capriccio espagnol (which rivals Maazel’s electrifying Berlin Philharmonic version on DG from the same period) and engaging Tsar Sultan ‘March’. Shostakovich’s First Symphony and Age of Gold suite operate at a marginally lower voltage, but the French maestro’s empathy for this repertoire is never in doubt.

I’d not previously encountered Martinon’s VPO ‘Pathétique’ and was gripped by its profound musicality, abundant temperament and keen sense of drama (the scherzo goes with a terrific swagger). Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony serves up the lone dud in this slim-line box: the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra performs with a will, but the comparatively seedy string-tone, all-pervading lack of finesse and crunchy, tiring hard-edged sonics are not conducive to repeated listening. The same composer’s Seventh Symphony and Russian Overture fare more happily and fall altogether more congenially on the ear, as do Martinon’s personable and sparky renderings of four Berlioz overtures and the ‘Hungarian March’ from “The Damnation of Faust”.

The PCO displays even greater composure in Adam’s Giselle (in Henri Büsser’s edition), which leaves a captivating impression here. Last, and most certainly not least, there’s that especially treasurable anthology from June 1960 comprising matchless accounts of Ibert’s Divertissement (an absolute hoot!), Bizet’s Jeux d’enfants, and Saint-Saëns’s Danse macabre and Le rouet d’Omphale. Kenneth ‘Wilkie’ Wilkinson’s glowing, beautifully judged sonics on these last two Paris-based projects really do leap out of the speakers with astonishing tangibility; indeed, the transfers throughout are, by and large, very well made.

Summing up, then, a veritable feast of characterful, heart-warming and selfless musicianship and a set guaranteed to lift the spirits. Don’t hesitate!

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