TWO NEW DISCS of Faure''s orchestral works have just appeared, not unexpectedly duplicating most of each other's program. Neville Marriner conducts the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields on a digitally recorded Argo disc (ZRDL 1003; cassette KZRDC 1003), and Armin Jordan conducts the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra on an Erato import from RCA (STU 71495)
Both collections include the enchanting "Pelle'as et Me'lisande" Suite, Op. 80, the later "Masques et bergamasques," Op. 112, and the familiar Pavane, Op. 50. Marriner uses the chorus in the Pavane; Jordan does not. The Argo program is filled out with the Fantaisie for flute, Op. 79, in Louis Aubert's orchestral version, with William Bennett as soloist, while Jordan offers a more familiar concert work, the Op. 19 Ballade, with pianist Jean Hubeau.
Both assortments look good on paper, and both are enjoyable in their own right, but neither is as satisfying as one might have hoped. Marriner, as always, gets lovely playing from the Academy, but there is little character in these performances. "Masques et bergamasques" and the Fantaisie come off best, but the latter is hardly consequential, and surely what everyone wants most in this context is the "Pelle'as" music, which is distressingly bland here.
Jordan has a better sense of mood and texture in the "Pelle'as" material, and a more aptly expansive feeling for the Pavane, but neither is in any sense a memorable performance. The best part of this package is the Ballade, and that work, too, is more persuasive in other recordings.
There are fewer recordings of the "Pelle'as" suite now than one might have thought. The most successful, I think, are the two conducted by Serge Baudo, both of which happen to be on low-priced labels. On Seraphim S-60273 Baudo conducts the Orchestre de Paris in "P & M," "Masques et bergamasques" and, sandwiched between them, the Rabaud-orchestrated "Dolly" Suite. On Nonesuch H-71178 he conducts the Conservatoire Orchestra, in just "P & M" and the Ballade, with Vasso Devetzi as soloist. I prefer the Nonesuch "P & M" for its slightly greater sense of intimacy (lovely cello solos in the Sicilienne), but either of these would do nicely.
(The choral version of the Pavane is more fetching as performed under Andrew Davis on CBS M-35153, with Faure''s Requiem. CBS errs, by the way, in listing this as the "Original Version" of the Pavane: Faure' added the optional choral part several years after he composed the purely orchestral version, which may be enjoyed in several attractive recordings, my own favorites being those conducted by Beecham on Seraphim S-60134 and Slatkin on Telarc DG-10059. Beecham's magical performance of the "Dolly" Suite is on Seraphim S-60084. James Galway has recorded the Fantaisie, with his own orchestration of the accompaniment, with Charles Dutoit conducting, in an interesting collection of French pieces for flute and orchestra on RCA ARL1-3777.)
Marriner and the Academy are altogether more successful in their recent Philips digital recording of Mozart German Dances and marches (6514.207; cassette 7337.207). Their similar collection of Beethoven dances (9500.567) turned out to be fussy, self-conscious and anything but ingratiating; the Mozart package, though, is clearly one of the finest things of its kind from any source. Here the performers seem thoroughly identified with their material, and the playing exudes a heady spontaneity as well as the customary polish.
Five full sets of German Dances are included: the six big and brilliant ones of K. 509, six more in K. 571, the three of K. 605 (the last of these being "The Sleigh Ride"), the six of K. 600, and the four of K. 602 (in which the delightful hurdy-gurdy part fully justifies the solo credit for Francis Baines). The three marches are K. 189 and the two of K. 335. No matter how many of these pieces you may have in your collection already, this assortment is too delicious to pass up. In a word, irresistible.