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20th Century French Chamber Music / Melos Ensemble

Melos Ensemble Of London
Release Date: 04/20/2010 
Label:  Eloquence   Catalog #: 4802153   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Claude DebussyMaurice RavelJoseph Guy RopartzAlbert Roussel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Melos Ensemble London
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

RAVEL Introduction and Allegro. DEBUSSY Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp. ROUSSEL Sérénade. ROPARTZ 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 Read more 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 , and 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 Sérénade . 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
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Works on This Recording

Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp by Claude Debussy
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Melos Ensemble London
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1915; France 
Introduction and Allegro for Harp, Flute, Clarinet and String Quartet by Maurice Ravel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Melos Ensemble London
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1905; France 
Prélude, marine et chanson by Joseph Guy Ropartz
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Melos Ensemble London
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1928; France 
Serenade for Flute, Violin, Viola, Cello and Harp, Op. 30 by Albert Roussel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Melos Ensemble London
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1925; France 

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