Jean Fournet - The Concertgebouw Recordings (CD)

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Concertgebouworkest, Jean Fournet

Jean Fournet was already one of the best-known French conductors when on 12 November 1950 he made his debut with the Dutch Radio Philharmonic Orchestra. Three days later he made his debut with the Concertgebouw Orchestra, where he stepped in for Eduard van Beinum, whose recorded legacy is extensively reissued on Eloquence.

Newly remastered and issued internationally for the first time, his complete Concertgebouw recordings reveal a conductor handling with experience and sympathy an orchestra whose members were, for most of the sessions,coming to terms with the sudden death of a much-loved music director. As Niek Nelissen’s booklet essay recounts in documentary detail, drawing on the Concertgebouw’s own archives, Fournet conducted the orchestra’s first concerts after its formal obsequies for Van Beinum, and then took over sessions in which the late chief had been due to record the suites from Grieg’s incidental music to Peer Gynt. This was followed the following day by a remarkably fluent account of Borodin’s atmospheric tone-poem In the Steppes of Central Asia, and a marvellously refined Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune led, as it were, from the first flute solo by Hubert Barwahser, who distinguishes many Concertgebouw recordings of the time.

This all-too-compact legacy on disc is completed by España and L’Apprenti sorcier: highly coloured French orchestral classics dear to Fournet’s heart, which he would return to many times during his long career, and not least with the Japanese orchestras with whom he enjoyed an Indian summer on record, but never surpassing the tonal refinement of these Concertgebouw recordings, though he continued to give concerts with them for a further 35 years.

‘Fournet’s [Prélude] is flowing and symmetrical in an atmosphereic and gently distant, but realistic, recording. The playing of the Concertgebouw here is silken and evocative, with subtle hints of lavender and grey.’ High Fidelity, September 1962

‘These nicely phrased musical performances are very well recorded in both mono and stereo… I would think the new Fournet as good as any.’ Gramophone, April 1961 (Peer Gynt)

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1  A Night on the Bare Mountain                                                                                                                             


2 España – Rhapsody for Orchestra                                                                                                           


3  L’Apprenti sorcier                                                                                                                                                                 


4  Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune                                                                       


5 In the Steppes of Central Asia                                                                        


6–9  Peer Gynt: Suite No. 1, Op. 46                 

10–13  Peer Gynt: Suite No. 2, Op. 55

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A collection of orchestral goodies to bring a smile to your face



This is one of the top Eloquencereissues to come my way this year. Firstly, its program is made up of orchestral goodies, ("lollipops", as Beecham termed them), of the kind nobody seems to want to record any more, or even play live. How often have you heard Chabrier's glittering Españaor Borodin's In the Steppes of Central Asiain concert? These short works were staples in an era when part of going to a concert involved having fun and a bit of light relief.

Secondly, there is the work of Jean Fournetand Amsterdam's Concertgebouw Orchestra (yet to become "Royal"). The Concertgebouw always was a crack ensemble, in especially good shape when these pieces were recorded in 1959 and '60. Fournet (1913-2008) was a French music specialist, and had just taken over as the orchestra's Chief Conductor after the sudden death of his predecessor Eduard van Beinum. Although Fournet's reputation has been overshadowed (at least on record) by his fellow Francophile conductors Munch, Paray, Martinon, Monteux and Ansermet, he was clearly a stick-waver to contend with. These performances have exhilarating drive, especially Mussorgsky's A Night on the Bare Mountain(the Rimsky-Korsakov version, although that is not indicated), Dukas's Sorcerer's Apprentice- a characterful performance of a piece that is often rushed - and the Abduction from Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite No. 2. Both Peer Gynt Suites are included.

Finally, there is the sound. I've had occasion before to mention how beautifully early stereo Philips discs have scrubbed up in the digital era. The orchestral colours here positively blaze, and the recording sounds a good twenty years younger than it actually is. Don't be put off by the sepia cover picture of a staid, white-haired conductor: this is brimming with life.