STRAUSS:  Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30.(*)  DEBUSSY:  Jeux.(**) SZYMANOWSKI: Songs of an Infatuated Muezzin, Op. 31.(Jean-Paul FouchÈcourt, tenor).(*)  Songs of a Fairy-tale Princess, Op. 31. (Valdine Anderson, soprano)(**)
BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Tadaaki Otaka, cond. (*)
Mark Elder, cond. (**) 

BBC MUSIC  BBCP 1004  TT:  76:49 


This is one in a fascinating series of recent live performances recorded during the BBC Proms Summer Series originally broadcast on BBC Radio 3, all issued at mid-price.  Many of the performances were recorded at concerts in Royal Albert Hall and capture the rich acoustics of the hall with remarkable accuracy. This particular CD is a winner.  Although the BBC National Orchestra of Wales is not as well known as London's major orchestras, judging by their playing on this CD they are of equal merit. And these are live performances recorded August 10, 1998, with no retakes—although none would have been necessary. Strauss's symphonic poem is magnificently done with the huge sound of the Royal Albert Hall organ providing luxurious subterranean  bass even at low volume level.

The two Szymanowski song cycles are an odd coupling for the huge Strauss symphonic poem but more than welcome as there are  few other recordings. Six  Songs of an Infatuated Muezzin, Op. 42 were written in 1918. Four  were orchestrated in 1934 (Allah Akbar, Allah!, At Noon the City is White in the Heat, At the Quiet Hour When the City Sleeps, Away You Have Gone). In this music the composer's keen interest in Arab and Persian culture is evident. The world of eroticism also is to be found in Six Songs of a Fairy-Tale Princess, Op. 31, written in 1915. Originally composed  for voice and piano, three of the six were orchestrated in 1933 (The Lonely Moon, The Nightingale, Dance).  Both of these exotic song cycles demand the greatest agility from the performers, requirements well met by Jean-Paul FouchÈcourt and Valdine Anderson. These songs set the scene for the final work on this CD, Debussy's  colorful Jeux which, aside from a few moments of imprecision in the opening pages, is played with refinement.

I've heard two other issues in the BBC Proms series that  command attention. One offers  Stravinsky's Scherzo fantastique, Op. 3, Holst's The Planets and The Sorcerer's Apprentice by Dukas all played by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Mark Elder and Tadaaki Otaka (Dukas). Again the mighty Royal Albert Hall organ is heard to good effect (BBC Music 1003). The other CD features the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Andrew Davis (Elgar's Froissart Overture, Op. 19), Mark Elder (Britten's Sinfonia da Requiem), and Jukka-Pekka Saraste (Stravinsky's Rite of Spring) (BBC Music 1001). All of these  are splendid performances with wonderfully rich orchestral sound. It sort of makes the collector wonder if all those "balance engineers" etc. in many commercial recordings really are necessary.The only debit on Zarathustra is that there are not individual tracks for each section.

R.E.B. (Oct. 2000)