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Jean Fournet in Prague: Franck, Falla, Debussy.

Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Frantisek Maxian, Sr.--piano, Prague Symphony Orchestra, Czech Philharmonic Chorus, Josef Veselka--chorus master, Jean Fournet--conductor.

Text: English, German, French, Czech.

Recorded: 1963-1967, Rudolfinum, Prague. Released: 2013. IT: 51:01, 70:46, 64:45. AAD. 3 CDs

Supraphon SU 4122-2.

The 3-CD set featuring recordings made in Czechoslovakia by the distinguished French conductor Jean Fournet is a truly commendable project, one particularly beneficial for Supraphon's presentation abroad. Fournet was a remarkable figure who at the time of the massive taking up of stereophony at the end of the 1950s, as well as in the following decades, may not have dazzled in the Karajan or Bernstein mode yet always gained respect and aroused awe, which are still recalled today. By the way, Fournet was conducting until virtually the end of his life. In 2002, at the ripe old age of ninety, he performed with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra in Prague and even toured Japan! Last but not least, the new Fournet album is salutary owing to the fact that the recordings it contains are of top-class quality and stand their ground with s honour and forcibility today. They represent yet another splendid example of the high level attained by two leading Czech ensembles in the 1960s--Ancerl's Czech Philharmonic and Smetacek's Prague Symphony Orchestra. All the recordings included in the set were made at the time when Supraphon was systematically building up its music archives. With a few exceptions, during the era of Communist dictatorship, gramophone records from the West did not reach our country. Therefore, the catalogue of the then one and only Czechoslovak label had to substitute for dozens, even hundreds, of recordings of the essential works of all historical periods. French music, naturally, occupied an important position among them. At the time, the Czech Philharmonic paid great attention to French creation. Back in the 1950s (prior to the accession of stereophony), the outstanding French conductor Roger Desormiere, who in 1982 received the Grand Prix National du Disque de l'Acadernie du Disque for the 1950 recording of Bizet's L'Arlesienne with the Czech Philharmonic, appeared in Czechoslovakia. Another welcomed guest at concerts in Prague was Charles Munch, yet only Desormiere made disc recordings, thus providing us with wonderful testimonies. It's a pity that these days Supraphon cannot afford to release more historical recordings that have been surpassed in technological terms. When listening to these old LPs, we realise that Jean Fournet, and Serge Baudo after him, taught Czech orchestras how to play the French Impressionists so well that the ensembles started to be considered their ideal performers. Fournet recorded with the Czech Philharmonic already in the era of stereophony and his recordings of Debussy's La mer and Nocturnes came across like an apparition. Later on, he added to them two sections (regrettably, not the complete work!) of Images pour orchestre (Iberia and Rondes de printemps). As the masterfully digitised recordings (Jan Lzicar) show today, the Czech Philharmonic revelled in the colours of its instruments and their groups, and was able in a stylish manner to embrace Fournet's sense of expressive nuance--far more colourfully and poignantly than we can hear on the (albeit brilliant and internationally honoured) recordings made by Serge Baudo. A case in point is the fascinatingly flowing, excitably breathing second movement of Iberia (Les parfums de la nuit) and the engrossing dance nature of its first and final movements. The same applies to the popular mini-suite of the Three Dances from De Falla's El sombrero de tres oleos. Fournet's take on French Romanticism can be deemed a separate chapter. This type of music has to be approached with a fair amount of sense for orchestral flamboyance and peculiar agogic accent, one rather distant from the German and Czech. For this reason, at the time it was very wise to engage Jean Fournet in recordings of Cesar Franck's symphonic poems. In this respect, the album's most valuable track is the complete recording of Psyche, the version with choral entries of the female choir and tenors, which is still rather hard to find on discs. The Prague Symphony Orchestra's performance is laudable, and despite slight nuances and minor deficiencies (sonic homogeneity, occasional tuning) it is an equal competitor to the Czech Philharmonic, which recorded with Fournet the remaining three Franck poems and the symphonic interlude from the oratorio Redemption (the solo piano part in the poem Les Djinns was performed by Frantisek Maxian, Sr.). When it comes to the choir under Josef Veselka (at the time, still the Czech Philharmonic Chorus), who were invited to participate in the recordings of Psyche and the Nocturnes, they are deserving of high praise indeed.
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Author:Vitek, Bohuslav
Publication:Czech Music
Article Type:Sound recording review
Date:Apr 1, 2013
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