DUTTON LABS Budget Releases – INKPOT
DUTTON LABS Budget Releases
Dutton Laboratories gives Naxos Historical a run for its money with a new series of budget recordings. My first impression of Michael Dutton’s remasterings several years ago was not good. There was virtually no surface noise, but many of the higher frequencies were missing and the general sound seemed muffled. I am therefore happy to report that all these releases sound exceptionally good, with an excellent frequency range and generally clear sonics. The performances are not to be missed, either – all classics that are welcome on disc, especially in such fine sound.
Ernest Ansermet had a long recording history with the L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, which he founded in 1918 and led until 1968, a year after his official retirement. Originally a mathematician (he later wrote a book that mathematically “disproved” the theory behind 12-tone music), Ansermet loved technical matters (he was one of the first conductors to record in stereo) and enjoyed making records. He made many recordings of modern music, including Stravinsky, Ravel and Honegger, and had a special sense of atmosphere for Russian music – a touch that definitely shows here.
Petrouchka (listed as a ballet suite but in fact containing virtually the whole ballet) is full of characteristic touches, from a “Shrovetide Fair” that moves fleetly before us with a sense of wide-eyed wonder at all the sights, to Petrouchka’s appearance, hushed and haunting, giving way to a giddy, childlike playfulness in the Russian Dance. The darker moments are not slighted either – not in Petrouchka’s or the Moor’s rooms, and definitely not at the end of the ballet, with an especially mocking trumpet solo giving an especially ghostly nose-thumbing.
The Firebird Suite is not the most torrid version available but is definitely not dull, with the same attention to detail and atmosphere as in Petroushka. We also get an encore with the Dance of the Princesses from the complete ballet, and the princesses dance very winsomely indeed. The Symphony of Psalms is equally well done but is not as well recorded as the other works; the choir sounds hazy (perhaps recorded too far back?), with a corresponding lack of clarity in diction.
Otherwise, this is an exceptional release, with a good mid-hall sound and the orchestra sounding great – the strings and winds of the London Philharmonic very natural sounding, and timpani that literally goes bump in the night. The critics raved about the sound in 1946 and 1947, and in this remastering it is perfectly acceptable now.
Petrouchka Ballet Suite
Firebird Suite (1919 version)
Dance of the Princesses from “The Firebird”
Symphony of Psalms London Philharmonic Orchestra
London Philharmonic Choir
conducted by Ernest Ansermet
Dutton CDBP 9700
Ralph VAUGHN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Symphony No. 6 in E minor (with original and revised scherzi)*
A Song of Thanksgiving
The Lark Ascending London Symphony Orchestra*
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Betty Dolemore soprano
Robert Speaight narrator
Harry Gabb organ
Jean Pougnet violin
Lutton Choral Society and Girls’ Choir (Arthur E. Davis, conductor)
conducted by Sir Adrian Boult
Dutton CDBP 9703
According to the notes for the Stokowski disc, mezzo-soprano Nan Merriman had not sung El Amor Brujo before performing it with him at Hollywood Bowl two days before this recording was made. Stokowski insisted, after hearing the singer in their first rehearsal (held in the conductor’s living room, with a coffee table for a music stand), that she was born to sing this music. He was right. Merriman sounds every bit the sultry Andalusian gypsy called for by Falla. (After hearing this, I seriously wonder if the ever sang Carmen, and hope to hear it if she did.) The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra’s playing is alternately lush, smoldering and blazing, perfectly conveying Stokie’s Technicolor sensibilities. The sound, as with the other Dutton releases, is excellent.
The Brahms First Symphony is more controversial. Controversy was nothing new to Stokowski, especially when performing Beethoven and Brahms, and here we are given a full measure of the conductor’s approach. The contrasts in this performance are strange, with swift tempi that would normally make this music lean and mean coupled with an aural palate that could generously be described as bloated, with huge waves of sound more appropriate to the conductor’s Bach transcriptions than to this symphony. The music is well played but the interpretation seems superficial, with the conductor striving for effect over substance. The disc is still worth getting for the Falla, but you may want to stop the disc at the end of track 10, before the Brahms.
Dutton uses the original cover art for the Stravinsky and Falla discs. Texts provided for the Falla, but not for the Vaughn Williams or Stravinsky, and the notes for the Stravinsky are the original 1946 and 1947 reviews.
Sir Adrian Boult led the premiere of Vaughn Williams’ Sixth Symphony with the BBC Orchestra in 1948 and made this recording with the London Symphony the following year. Compared to his remake in the 1960’s, this performance moves at a fiery clip. Though at times the tempi seem to short weight and drama, it is hard not to become caught up in the dynamism of this traversal. The symphony as a whole gains a tensile, sinewy quality, while the lyric episode near the end of the first movement, though much faster than usual, does not any of its loveliness or “singing” quality.
This is also the only recording of the original version of the Sixth Symphony’s scherzo. Vaughn Williams revised the scoring of this movement early in 1950, inserting a theme for brass at five points, and EMI agreed to insert a recording of the revised scherzo into the rest of the symphony. Track Five is the original scherzo, and can be heard in place of the revised version by programming your player accordingly.
A Song of Thanksgiving, originally titled Thanksgiving for Victory, was commissioned by the BBC in 1943 to be performed when Hitler’s Germany was defeated. Vaughn Williams compiled the text for this miniature cantata from the Bible, Shakespeare and Kipling, composing the music in 1944. Boult recorded the work late that year, and that recording was broadcast on May 13, 1945, five days after V-E Day. The recording on this disc was made seven years later.
The work is definitely incidental music, with a certain amount of pomp and a great deal of thankfulness, along with a fair amount of the mystic quality inherent in Vaughn Williams’ choral music. It is also a stylistic soul-mate of the Sixth Symphony – the episode beginning 4:28, when the narrator says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” sounds exactly (and frighteningly) like the haunting, desolate epilogue that ends the symphony. Though it is not one of Vaughn Williams’ finest works, it is well crafted and intriguing to hear despite its somewhat dated sentiments, when the worst catastrophe in history was over and mankind would now, hopefully, strive on to utopian heights.
The performers acquit themselves very well. The London Philharmonic plays glowingly, while the Luton Choral Society and Girl’s Choir sing with conviction, pure tone and crystalline diction. Narrator Robert Speaight lends an other-worldly quality that complements the quasi-prophetic quality of his part, as does soprano Betty Dolemore, partly due in her case to the lightness of her voice.
The Lark Ascending, also played by the London Philharmonic, is a perfect piece to follow the cantata, both for its serene geniality and a solo turn by violinist Jean Pougnet that is vibrant and meltingly sensitive. The acoustic is much more echo-ridden than in the other pieces, with a muddier bass and generally less clarity of sound – surprising, since it was recorded later than the other works – but the freshness and urgency of the reading makes it worth overlooking any acoustical challenges.
El amor brujo
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68
Nan Merriman mezzo-sporano
Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Leopold Stokowski
Dutton CDBP 9705
Vroon, Donald, “The Ansermet Edition,” American Record Guide, Vol. 55 No. 5 (September-October 1992), 74.
8xx: 6.12.2000 Jonathan Yungkans
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