DÈSIRÈ-ÉMILE INGHELBRECHT conducts the French National Radio Orchestra and the London Philharmonic Orchestra
RAVEL: Daphnis et Chlo╚. Ma m╦re l'oye - suite.
TESTAMENT SBT 1264 (F) (ADD) TT:  77:14

FAURÉ: Shylock, Op. 57. Pell╚as et M╚lisande, Op. 87. Cantique de Jean Racine, Op. 11. Requiem, Op. 48. (Henri Legay, tenor; Fran┴oise Og╚as, soprano; Bernard Demigny, baritone; J. Baudry-Godard, organ; French National Radio Chorus.
TESTAMENT SBT 1266 (F) (ADD) TT:  71:36

BERLIOZ:  Roman Carnival Overture, Op. 9  Excerpts from The Damnation of Faust. (London Philharmonic Orch); BIZET:  Excerpts from Carmen.  DELIBES:  Excerpts from Lakme.  RAVEL:  Une Barque sur l'ocean.  Rapsodie espagnole
TESTAMENT SBT 1265 (F) (ADD) TT:  66:17

At least two years ago I reviewed six discs of Debussy's music, inseparably boxed, conducted during the last few years of his long life by Dèsir╦-Émile Inghelbrecht (1880-1965). This younger contemporary of globe-trotting Pierre Monteux and Paul Paray devoted his professional life to music-making in Paris. A live 1962 performance of Pell╚as et M╚lisande in stereo was the prize—one of the two great ones on discs, along with Roger Desormi╦re's (despite the seduction of Karajan and the fastidious deliniation of Abbado). Those Debussy performances published by Montaigne Archives on its oddly-named naïve label were not, evidently, among the many recordings Inghelbrecht made for the French firm of Ducretet Thomson—including these three additional monodiscs copyrighted by EMI Music France, digitally remastered as well as published by Testament, but nonetheless of DT origin.

For me, the prize here is a visceral albeit cultivated, concert-oriented (rather than balletic) performance of Ravel's complete Daphnis et Chlo╚, coupled with the six-movement version of Ma m╦re l'oye (leaving out Ravel's interludes between each of the original suite's five movements). The latter is lovely, although you will not hear an orchestra as polished, say, as Charles Dutoit's Montr╚al Symphony. But you will hear a distinctive personality informed by rock-solid musicianship (sorry, but I've heard little from Dutoit over the years that I want to hear again except for the Saint-Saëns piano concerto collaboration with Pascal Rog╚; for me, he's the Swiss Neeme Jörvi). In Inghelbrecht's case, however, the real problem here is acoustic. Whereas his Montaigne Debussy set originated in the French National Radio Orchestra's concert-hall home, le Th╚âtre de Champs Elys╚es, these discs were made in Th╚âtre Apollo, an altogether dryer locale acoustically - everything, that is, except the Faur╚ Requiem, which was recorded in the Church of Saint-Roch at Paris. In this entire Testament series, the producer was "inconnu" - unknown - although the engineer throughout was Andr╚ Charlin of the Champs-Elys╚es staff.

The Faur╚ includes Henri Legay as tenor soloist in two of the six excerpts from Shylock, which Inghelbrecht recreated with great tenderness. In 1954 the singer was in his lyric prime; veteran opera collectors will remember him from EMI's Pearl Fishers and Massenet's Manon (which Monteux conducted). Fran┴oise Og╚as was Yniold in Inghelbrecht's Pell╚as as well as the child in Lorin Maazel's L'enfant et les sortil╦ges (still unbettered all these years later). But her soprano sounds childlike in the Requiem; better to have used a boy or a more mature voice, although France was not rich during that period (EMI brought in Victoria de los Angeles for their version; but also Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who sounded stilted compared to Inghelbrecht's Bernard Domigny, a veteran seasoned in the nuances of French style). The Radio chorus in the Requiem also sings in Cantique de Jean Racine, early Faur╚ but already distinctive, and their "Frenchness" is emphasized in the more cramped acoustic of an "inconnu" venue. It is furthermore refreshing to hear instruments with an authentic French timbre in the Pell╚as Suite that Charles Koechlin scored for his master (albeit overseen, and copied by Faur╚ himself for publication). This is not the wispy music-making one usually hears in this work; Faur╚ wasn't Debussy, and Inghelbrecht underscores his "pre-Impressionist" musical rhetoric.

This leaves a mixed bag which begins with Berlioz, played by the touring London Philharmonic on a day off in Paris. Inghelbrecht was not by nature flamboyant and while nothing sounds limp-wristed, a lot of contemporaries led Berlioz more vividly. However, the Prelude and three Entr'actes from Carmen with his own orchestra are vivid as well as straightforward. A surprise is the music from Lakm╦, caressed as affectionately as Shylock on the Faur╚ disc, with a chorus in the coda as originally written. If there's a rough-hewn Ravel Barque on a stormy ocean next, Rapsodie espagnole takes us back to the agogic subtleties of his all-Ravel disc. "Pr╚lude â la nuit" is the work of an authentic Ravel interpreter, while the rest is a trove of finely shaped detail. What we have of caliber and authority from this too-little-known compatriot of widely-traveled French podium personages should arouse curiosity as well as admiration.

R.D. (October 2002)