Notes and Editorial Reviews
Introduction and Allegro.
Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp.
Prélude, marine et chansons
Melos Ens of London
DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 2153, analog (54:26)
These recordings were made in 1961, after the Melos Ensemble had maintained a steady core membership for the
first 11 years of its existence. As a large, versatile chamber group whose players were very familiar with one another’s professional capabilities, they managed to create and sustain an admirably high performance standard upon all occasions, regardless of the changes in personnel required by any given work. This continued until second violinist Ivor McMahon’s death in 1972, followed by the exodus of three other members—only to reform around eight of the original performers in 1974. For the record, it’s flutist Richard Adeney, violist Cecil Aronowitz, and harpist Ossian Ellis who perform the Debussy, with violinist Emanuel Hurwitz and cellist Terence Weil added for the Roussel and Ropartz. McMahon joins Hurwitz for the Ravel, as does that fine clarinetist Gervase de Peyer.
If as diverse a body of musicians as this one could be said to have a series of consistent traits, then I would suggest the Melos Ensemble consistently exhibited a lean, focused sound, and a remarkable inner rapport. Both are on display in the Ravel, Debussy, and Ropartz heard on this release. The Ravel can easily descend in the wrong hands into diffuse voluptuousness, but not here. The musicians find the perfect weight for its phrases, shaping the music without self-consciousness, and with a wide-awake sensibility that emphasizes the Introduction and Allegro’s kinship to other, later Ravel compositions, including
Le Tombeau de Couperin
Ma Mère l’oye
. The Debussy and sadly underrated Ropartz are similarly rich in rhythmic character, with an emphasis on contrasting, well-balanced timbres. The only composition that I think doesn’t come off especially well is the
. There’s more exuberance and wit than the Melos Ensemble discovers in its first and third movements—but to be fair, only one of the other currently available versions I’ve heard (Centaur 2458) is even slightly better in some respects, while the others (including the Mirage Quintet on Naxos 8.570444 and Roussel’s complete chamber music on Brilliant Classics 8413) are decidedly more bland and careful.
The engineering is good, both crisp and close, without recourse to the lush ambience that recording companies sometimes believe is required for the French post-Romantics. In sum, both a fine disc on its own, and a celebration of some of the best music-making that excellent musicians performing in London venues half a century ago could manage. Definitely recommended.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
Works on This Recording
Prélude, marine et chanson by Joseph Guy Ropartz
Melos Ensemble London
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1928; France
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