Notes and Editorial Reviews
If you spent any time at all in hi-fi stores in the early-1970s you probably got an earful of Louis Frémaux's EMI Massenet LP, especially the ballet Le Cid, whose big opening tutti, wide dynamics, and clicking castanets made it an audiophile hit at the time. It still sounds very good, though the passage of time and assembly-line digital processing slightly dims its 21st-century allure. The work encompasses the Act 2 ballet music of Massenet's 1885 opera, loosely based on a fictionalized version of the 12th-century warrior's life. The composer reveled in the Spanish rhythms associated with each of the regions depicted in the music, so it's full of danceable, bright, tuneful music that's easy to listen to. There's a deliciously sinuous Andalous, an energetic Aragonaise, and a sockaroo closing number in Navarraise. But the Madrilène, with its gorgeous cor anglais and flute solos, though less flashy, is the one you're bound to keep returning to.
The Scénes pittoresques, the fourth of Massenet's seven orchestral suites, is as charming. Its four movements offer more in the way of contrast than does Le Cid, and are as melodically fetching. The Angélus movement, with its haunting wind refrains and horns simulating the sound of tolling bells, occupies the intersection of religiosity and sensuousness in ways the late French Romantics seemed to fully master. The last of the Massenet items, The Last Sleep of the Virgin, is the epitome of that dubious exercise, but if you're not jaded by the piece yet, you'll enjoy this fine performance.
The rest of the disc is given over to shorter Saint-Saëns works, highlighted by Paul Tortelier's leanly graceful The Swan and his attractively vigorous Allegro appassionato. The remaining works for violin solo and orchestra are pleasant, well-played, and forgettable. This is music right up Frémaux's alley; he conducts with real affection for each of the works on this disc, getting first-rate playing from the City of Birmingham Orchestra he led for a decade. An undemanding but enjoyable program.
--Dan Davis, ClassicsToday.com