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CD Review

Jean Martinon

RCA 62752

Complete Recordings
with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

  • Maurice Ravel:
  • Suite "Daphnis et Chloé" #2
  • Rapsodie espagnole
  • Alborada del gracioso
  • Ma mère l'Oye (Suite)
  • La Valse
  • Boléro
  • Pavane for a Dead Princess
  • Introduction & Allegro for Harp, String Quartet, Flute, & Clarinet
  • Carl Nielsen:
  • Symphony #4 "The Inextinguishable", Op. 29
  • Overture "Helios", Op. 17
  • Carl Maria von Weber:
  • Clarinet Concerto #1 in F minor, Op. 73 1
  • Clarinet Concerto #2 in E-Flat minor, Op. 74 1
  • Georges Bizet: L'Arlésienne Suites #1 & 2
  • Albert Roussel: Suite "Bacchus et Ariane" #2, Op. 43
  • Edgard Varèse: Arcana
  • Frank Martin: Concerto for 7 Wind Instruments, Timpani, Percussion & String Orchestra
  • Édouard Lalo: Overture "Le Roi d'Ys"
  • Jules Massenet: Méditation from "Thaïs" 2
  • Nicolò Paganini: Moto perpetuo, Op. 11 (arr. Stock)
  • Béla Bartók: Concert Suite "The Miraculous Mandarin", Sz. 73
  • Paul Hindemith: Suite "Nobilissima vision"
  • Felix Mendelssohn: Incidental Music "A Midsummer Night's Dream", Op. 61
  • Jean Martinon: Symphony #4 "Altitudes", Op. 53
  • Peter Mennin: Symphony #7 in One Movement
  • Robert Casadesus: Concerto for Piano #2, Op. 37 3
1 Benny Goodman, clarinet
2 Stephen Staryck, violin
3 Robert Casadesus, piano
3 ORTF National Orchestra/Jean Martinon
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Jean Martinon
RCA 88843062752 10CDs
Find it at AmazonFind it at Amazon UKFind it at Amazon GermanyFind it at Amazon CanadaFind it at Amazon FranceFind it at Amazon Japan

A quick glance at the list of works here helps us to understand what made Jean Martinon such a radically different musician from his immediate predecessor, Fritz Reiner, to say nothing of their temperaments. Like Rafael Kubelik, he was regarded as a failure in Chicago. He spent five years at the helm before returning exclusively to France. Still, Sony/RCA deserves tremendous credit for assembling all of these performances together for the first time. They are all excellent, and showcase the Chicago Symphony in a diverse range of pieces.

Martinon was typecast early on as a French specialist, but the pieces here were – with the exception of some of the Ravel – not recorded by his RCA stablemate Charles Munch. Each Ravel selection testifies to a tremendous artistic presence, and the Chicago players surpass their Paris counterparts for Martinon on EMI/Warner. The Lalo, Bizet, Roussel, and Martin works remain references, and are very difficult to find outside of this box. Massenet makes an appearance, and the result is typically beautiful. Finally, we have a French symphony (the conductor's own #4) and piano concerto (a Columbia recording with the composer at the piano). As far as I know, this is one of the only available discs of either composer/performer tackling their own work, though there is doubtless archival material floating around. The Symphony is nothing too special, but the Concerto is better and might be fun to hear in programs now and again.

As for the rest of the discs, the suites (Hindemith, Bartók, Mendelssohn) all bristle with excitement and energy. I'm not sure if the Mendelssohn was ever released outside of this box, actually, and it shows that Martinon was certainly able to tackle the German masters as well as he did the French. The Weber concertos with Goodman are probably the only questionable recordings in this box, and whether you enjoy them or not will be a matter of taste. All of the "modern music" here (Arcana, Mennin's 7th) is also performed with total commitment. That leaves only the Nielsen, a pair of exceptionally fine readings. Nielsen is a composer who usually gets passed aside by "major" orchestras, and only Blomstedt (San Francisco) and more recently Alan Gilbert (New York) come to mind as matching the virtuoso power here. Along with Morton Gould's excellent Chicago Nielsen 2nd – happily released this year in a box I plan to review soon – this is the real deal when it comes to understanding the composer with world-class musicians.

At ten discs, the somewhat unnecessary "original jacket" concept makes the box bigger and perhaps a few dollars more expesive than it needed to be. Nevertheless, for those of us who wondered if we'd ever see these wonderful recordings all together in one place, this is a must buy. Aside from the Casadesus disc (which features some loose odds and ends that featured on LP compilations) each disc is handsomely housed in a true "original jacket", so you can pull out a magnifying glass and squint at the original notes. Also, have no fear about the sound. Although each of these albums was produced during the "Dynagroove" era of LPs, the transfers are as fine as the performances themselves. Truly, this is a great set.

Copyright © 2016, Brian Wigman

Trumpet