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Anatole Fistoulari Conducts French Music

Poulenc / Debussy / London Sym Orch / Fistoulari
Release Date: 04/10/2012 
Label:  Opus Kura   Catalog #: 7060   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Francis PoulencClaude DebussyGabriel Fauré
Performer:  Fabienne Jaquinot
Conductor:  Anatole Fistoulari
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 4 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

POULENC Les Biches: Suite 1. Aubade. DEBUSSY Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra 2. FAURÉ Dolly Suite: Berceuse 1 Anatole Fistourlari, cond; 1 London SO; 2 Fabienne Jacquinot (pn); Read more 2 Royal PO OPUS KURA 7060 (64:32)

For a label that styles itself a “work curator” (I presume that’s what Opus Kura means), the company has not done a very thorough job of documenting these historical recordings. The most informative part of the album notes—at least the English portion—is a brief synopsis by Tully Potter; the rest is in Japanese. What we are told is that the program was recorded in London for the American MGM label and issued on Parlophone LPs in the U.K.

The suite from Poulenc’s Les Biches and Henri Rabaud’s orchestration of the Berceuse from Fauré’s Dolly Suite date from 1953, Poulenc’s Aubade and the Debussy, from 1954. And while some effort is made to credit the piano soloist in the Debussy and to tell us which orchestra is heard in three of the pieces, we are left completely in the dark as to who the musicians are in Poulenc’s Aubade , a chamber concerto for piano and 18 instruments. Are they members of the London Symphony, the Royal Philharmonic, or neither?

With a little digging, I found that this same recording, or part of it, exists on a Naxos CD (9.80481) that is not available in the U.S. Curiously, that disc contains only 36 minutes of music and includes only the two Poulenc items, so there’s no involvement by the Royal Philharmonic, but the mystery of who the players are in the Aubade is revealed: They are members of the Westminster Symphony Orchestra of London.

Russian born conductor Anatole Fistoulari (1907–95) has an impressive pedigree. His father, also a conductor, was a student of Rimsky-Korsakov and Anton Rubinstein. Prior to the outbreak of World War II, Anatole forged an important relationship—one that, for better or worse, would come to define him—with Massine’s Ballets Russes. When the war came, he joined the French army and upon its defeat by the Germans fled to England. In 1942, he married Mahler’s daughter, Anna, and a year later he was appointed principal conductor of the London Philharmonic.

Despite a long and successful career, Fistoulari never quite achieved status as one of the 20th-century’s leading maestros. To no small degree, it had to do with his being typecast as a specialist in ballet, but in at least equal measure it was likely the result of a recording legacy that relegated him to the role of accompanist to a number of star soloists, Milstein, Menuhin, and Ricci among them. In fact, in a prior review of a Brahms Violin Concerto recording by Arabella Steinbacher, I cited a 1961 version of the concerto with Milstein and Fistoulari leading the Philharmonia as the fastest performance (36:03) out of 25 recordings surveyed. Fistoulari’s recordings of Delibes’s complete Coppélia and Sylvia ballets from the 1950s, now available in a three-CD budget set on Newton Classics, did much to advance the reputation of the once-admired French composer.

Which brings me, finally to the disc at hand. The sound of these 1950s mono transfers is exceptionally bright and clear, with no noticeable attenuation in frequency response or dynamics. In that respect, Opus Kura’s engineers did an excellent job. And, as we already know, Fistoulari had a real flair for this type of French repertoire. There are, of course, many fine recorded versions of all of these pieces to choose from, but this release poses a particularly happy union of works and performances in a program that’s a real delight from beginning to end. Recommended not just to Fistoulari fans but to all listeners for over an hour’s worth of unalloyed pleasure.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Les biches: Suite by Francis Poulenc
Conductor:  Anatole Fistoulari
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1939-1940; France 
Date of Recording: 1953 
Venue:  London 
Length: 19 Minutes 24 Secs. 
Aubade for Piano and 18 instruments by Francis Poulenc
Conductor:  Anatole Fistoulari
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1929; France 
Date of Recording: 1954 
Venue:  London 
Length: 17 Minutes 21 Secs. 
Fantaisie for Piano and Orchestra by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Fabienne Jaquinot (Piano)
Conductor:  Anatole Fistoulari
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1889-1890; France 
Date of Recording: 1954 
Venue:  London 
Length: 8 Minutes 28 Secs. 
Dolly, Op. 56: no 1, Berceuse by Gabriel Fauré
Conductor:  Anatole Fistoulari
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1894; France 
Date of Recording: 1953 
Venue:  London 
Length: 2 Minutes 59 Secs. 

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