IBERT: Divertissement. IPPOLITOV-IVANOV: Caucasian Sketches, Suite No. 1, Op. 10. TCHAIKOVSKY: Suite from The Sleeping Beauty, Op. 66. SCARLATTI-TOMMASINI: The Good-Humored Ladies ballet.
Paris Conservatory Orch/Roger Désormière, cond. TESTAMENT SBT 1309 (mono) (F) (ADD) TT: 71:20

POULENC: Les biches ballet suite. DELIBES: Coppelia ballet suite. Sylvia ballet suite
Paris Conservatory Orch/Roger Désormière, cond.
TESTAMENT SBT 1294 (mono) (F) (ADD) TT: 74:44

MASSENET: Scènes pittoresques (Orchestral suite No. 4). Scènes alsaciennes (Orchestral suite N. 7). ADAM: Si j étais roi Overture. AUBER: Le domino noir Overture. HÉROLD: Zampa Overture. REZNICEK: Donna Diana Overture. VON SUPPÉ: Pique Dame Overture.
Paris Conservatory Orch/Albert Wolff, cond.
TESTAMENT SBT 1308 (stereo) (F) (ADD) TT: 77:58

Those collecting LPs a half-century ago will remember these London/Decca recordings which at the time were recognized for their finely balanced sound as well as their quality performances. Désormière's recordings are mono, made in 1950-1951 in La Maison de la Mutualité, Paris, with the legendary John Culshaw listed as producer but no balance engineer identified. Wolff's recordings were made in the same hall in November 1957 with James Walker as producer and the legendary Kenneth Wilkinson as balance engineer—and these recordings are in fine stereo. unknown balance engineers. The monophonic sound is super-detailed and very bright revealing every nuance of both conductor's interpretations.

Roger Désormière (1898-1963) began his musical ventures with study of the flute (in which he won first prize), followed by harmony, counterpoint and conducting, the latter with Vincent d'Indy. Early in his career he freelanced as a flautist for recordings and with cinema or music hall bands. About 1922 he decided to focus on conducting—his prime interests were two extremes of musical history. At the same time he was resurrecting "ancient" music (Rameau, Boismotier, Campra, Couperin and Monteclair) he promoted "modern" music as well, particularly that of Eric Satie, who was a close friend. As conductor of Ballets Diaghilev he conducted Stravinsky's Petrushka, Le Chant du Rossignol, Les Noces and Apollon musagète, Prokofiev's Pas d'acier and The Prodigal Son, Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade, and Poulenc's Les Biches. Later when he was associated with the Orchestre National and the Paris Opera, his interest in "new" music continued as he gave Paris premieres of Bartok's Piano Concerto No. 2, Messiaen's Turangalila Symphony, Dutilleux's Symphony No. 1, Boulez's Soleil des eaux and Shostakovich's Symphony No. 7. His 1941 Paris recording of Debussy's Pélleas et Mélisande featuring soprano Irène Joachim is considered by most to be the definitive version of the work.

These CDs present Désormière mostly in repertory in which he specialized and performed often for the stage. Shortly after making these recordings, Désormière had a stroke while driving his car in Rome which debilitated him almost completely. He spent the last eleven years of his life isolated from music seeing only a very small group of friends, resigned to immobility and silence—a tragic end to a distinguished career.

Albert Wolff (1884-1970) studied at the Paris Conservatory under Xavier Leroux, Paul Vidal and André Gédalge winning first prizes for harmony and accompaniment, joining the Opéra-Comique as chorus master in 1908. In 1911 he made his conducting debut and was invited by the Opéra for a tour including Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires where he conducted the local first performance of Pelléas et Mélisande, an opera he also premiered in Hilversum, Naples, Copenhagen, Oslo and Stockholm—as well as recording excerpts in 1930. During the Great War he was a pilot, ending up in Morroco. Upon return to civilian life, the Opéra permitted him to go to the Metropolitan Opera where he conducted several operas including Faust, Louise with Geraldine Farrar, and Lalo's Le Roi d'Ys with a cast including Rosa Ponselle, Beniamino Gigli and Frances Alda. When Wolff returned to Paris in 1922 he was appointed music director of the Opéra-Comique where he gave many Paris premieres including Ravel's L'Enfant et les sortiléges and Milhaud's La Brebis égarée.In 1928 he succeeded Paul Paray as conductor of Concerts Lamoureux where he conducted then unknown music by Schmitt, Pierné, Roussel—and Mahler(!) the latter, according to CD program notes, "to the bemusement of his audience." Wolff also was conductor of Concerts Pasdeloup from 1934 to 1940. When he returned to the Opéra in 1945 his performances included the premiere of Poulenc's Les Mamelles de Tirésias in 1947 with Denise Duval.

In the early days of stereo Wolff made a number of recordings for Decca/london, including Glazunov's The Seasons and two of Massenet's orchestral suites (Scènes Pittoresques/Scènes Alsaciennes), all recorded with the Paris Conservatory orchestra, issued on CD in 1991 on a budget-priced Weekend Classics CD (433 088), long out-of-print. Now Testament has remastered the two Massenet suites and coupled them with overtures of Adam, Auber, Hérold, Reznicek and von Suppé. Don't expect the Vienna Philharmonic, but the lighter orchestral textures of the French orchestra suit this music very well, and the early stereo is very natural.

All three well-filled CDs are worth additions to any collection of "semi-historic" performances.

R.E.B. (September 2003)