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Albeniz, Ravel, Chabrier, Bizet / Jean Morel

Albeniz / Morel,Jean
Release Date: 11/08/2011 
Label:  Eloquence   Catalog #: 4801305   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Isaac AlbenizMaurice RavelEmmanuel ChabrierGeorges Bizet
Conductor:  Jean Paul Morel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Paris Conservatoire OrchestraRoyal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

ALBÉNIZ-ARBÓS-SURINACH Iberia. RAVEL Rapsodie espagnole. CHABRIER España; 1 Joyeuse Marche 1. BIZET L’Arlésienne Suites Nos. 1, 2 1 Jean Morel, cond; Paris Conservatory O; 1 Royal Read more Op House O, Covent Garden DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 1305 (2 CDs: 135:50)

Iberia with [Carlos] Surinach’s completion was subsequently recorded in stereo by Jean Morel and the Paris Conservatory Orchestra (RCA) with a change in the order of a few movements. One appreciates the two channels but the performance, good as it is, lacks the power and energy of Ormandy’s and, in any case, has never been on CD and I wonder if it ever will be.” That statement appeared in Fanfare 34:6; so here I am, reviewing a CD reissue of it less than six months later. Having A-B-C’d it with the recordings of López-Cobos and Ormandy I retract my claim that it is weaker in energy, which wasn’t based on a direct A-B comparison but, rather, on my recollections of it. I still give Ormandy an edge in power but, given the rich colors and detail of this transfer, it seems less significant. The original RCA Victor Living Stereo set was a product of the temporary alliance between RCA Victor and British Decca. After the divorce, the rights reverted to Decca, which is why Eloquence has access to the master tape and why Iberia appears with some Morel recordings that were also a product of that alliance.

Olivier Messiaen suggested that Iberia , Isaac Albéniz’s imaginative evocation of Spain, might be the greatest piano piece ever written—it is certainly among the most difficult, so much so that Albéniz admitted that some parts were beyond even his virtuoso technique and, shortly before his death, suggested that it be orchestrated. I gave a brief history of the orchestrations of Enrique Fernández Arbós (five pieces), Carlos Surinach (the other seven), and mentioned some alternate orchestrations in the aforementioned issue, so I won’t rehash it here. My session with the López-Cobos, Morel, and Ormandy recordings, spread over several days, while it did not diminish my admiration for the Ormandy performance, elevated my opinion of the other two. Granted, a considerable influence was the sheer beauty of their recorded sound. The López-Cobos performance, though the slowest overall, is not invariably slower than the others on each individual piece. The oddest discrepancy occurs in Jérez , which he brings in at a leisurely 8:59 while Ormandy dispatches it in 6:21, and Morel at 6:52. Typically, all the performances worked, whether it was Ormandy’s splashy vigor or the more insinuating approach of López-Cobos: You danced to the one and swayed to the other. In the end, the comparison was a wash: I liked all three. Because his (generally) more leisurely approach to the music resulted in an 82-minute whole, Telarc allowed the recording to sprawl over two CDs but, happily, priced them as a “twofer” and, last time I looked, the set was still priced that way. The sound is both spacious and detailed, probably as good a recording as Telarc ever made, and the Cincinnati Symphony plays beautifully. Ormandy’s, recorded a few months before Columbia embraced stereo, is a powerhouse performance, featuring a juicy Philadelphia Orchestra sonority that we’ll probably never hear again—if only it were stereophonic. Pristine Audio’s producer, Mark Obert-Thorn, as I previously asserted, has probably milked every last possible decibel and nuance from the original LP; too bad he didn’t have access to the master tape, but the result would still be but one channel of super-potent music-making.

On the original RCA set, Morel took the pieces in his own idiosyncratic order: Evocación, El Puerto, El Corpus en Sevilla, Rondeña, Triana, Almería, Lavapiés, El Polo, El Albaicin, Málaga, Eritaña, Jérez. It’s no big deal but the producer of this reissue, apparently playing the purist, has rearranged the performance to conform to Albéniz’s order. I have sometimes found the Paris Conservatory Orchestra to be a bit scrappy in sound and sloppy in execution, but for Morel they seem to snap to attention and give their considerable best even if their sonority lacks the heft of the Cincinnati and Philadelphia groups. In eight years (1967) they would cease to exist, but 35 or so of their number would be absorbed by the new Orchestra of Paris. In general approach, though not quite as aggressive, Morel is more like Ormandy than like López-Cobos—much energy and an ear for colorful detail; indeed, on rare occasions, the background nearly smothers the melody but Decca’s engineers apparently liked La Maison de la Chimie, which always seemed to produce richly detailed sound. What was good in Living Stereo is even more potent on Decca Eloquence. Unfortunately, this review won’t be very helpful if you’re looking for advice on which orchestrated Iberia you should purchase since I, myself, can’t choose between them.

The couplings may not be particularly helpful, either. The Rapsodie espagnole took up two-thirds of the final side of Morel’s LP Iberia . Actually, I can’t remember ever hearing a recording of it that I didn’t think was, at least, very good; maybe all it takes is a good orchestra and a competent conductor. The ones I compared Morel’s to (Ansermet 2, Haitink, Munch/EMI, Reiner) certainly meet that standard and so does his, and Decca provides the same level of colorful detail and potent sonority that it gave to Iberia, but I suspect that most potential purchasers of this collection will already own a perfectly good Rapsodie espagnole . A different producer was on hand for the selections recorded in London but the site was Kingsway Hall, another excellent recording venue. My taste in the L’Arlesienne Suites leans, in alphabetical order, toward Ansermet, Beecham, Martinon, and Ormandy 2, but I don’t doubt that there are others, long-forgotten or unheard, that would satisfy me. Morel’s is obviously on the high end in both playing and sound, but I don’t like the way he whips up the dancing middle section of the “Pastorale” or the “Farandole.” The two Chabrier pieces are done to near-perfection: the Joyeuse Marche jerks along on its charming eccentric course—it’s sometimes raucous, but in a good way—while España has such witty background detail that it challenges Ansermet’s; a better compliment than that, I cannot give. All the recordings on this pair of CDs are more than 50 years old but they certainly don’t sound it and it’s good to have yet another high-quality choice available in all these pieces.

FANFARE: James Miller
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Works on This Recording

Suite Iberia by Isaac Albeniz
Conductor:  Jean Paul Morel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Paris Conservatoire Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1906-1908; France 
Rapsodie espagnole by Maurice Ravel
Conductor:  Jean Paul Morel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Paris Conservatoire Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1907-1908; France 
España by Emmanuel Chabrier
Conductor:  Jean Paul Morel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1883; France 
Joyeuse marche "Marche française" by Emmanuel Chabrier
Conductor:  Jean Paul Morel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
L'arlésienne: Suite no 1 by Georges Bizet
Conductor:  Jean Paul Morel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1872; France 
L'arlésienne: Suite no 2 by Georges Bizet
Conductor:  Jean Paul Morel
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: France 

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