HOLST: The Planets, Op. 32. BRITTEN: Sinfonia da Requiem, Op. 20.
Philharmonia Orch (Holst); City of Birmingham Symphony Orch. (Britten)/Simon Rattle, cond.
EMI CLASSICS 'ENCORE' 75868 (B) (ADD) TT: 72:02

MASSENET: Le Cid (Ballet Music). Scènes pittoresques. SAINT-SAËNS: The Swan. Allegro appassionato, Op. 43. Caprice for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 52. Le Déluge - Prélude, Op. 45. Caprice Valse, Op. 76 "Wedding Cake."
Paul Tortelier, cellist; Yan Pascal Tortelier, violinist; Maria de la Pau, pianist; City of Birmingham Symphony Orch/Louis Frémaux, cond.
EMI CLASSICS 'ENCORE' 75871 (B) (ADD) TT: 72:06

BERLIOZ: Roman Carnival Overture. Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14.
Royal Concertgebouw Orch/Mariss Jansons, cond.
EMI CLASSICS 'ENCORE' 85041 (B) (ADD) TT: 60:26
DELIBES: Ballet Music from Le Roi s'amuse. DEBUSSY: Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun. Cortege and Dance from L'Enfant prodigue. SAINT-SAËNS: Dance of the Priestesses and Bacchanale from Samson and Delilah. BERLIOZ: Dance of the Sylphs and Menuet of the Will-o-the-wisps from The Damnation of Faust. MASSENET: Valse from Cendrillon. GOUNOD: Ballet music from Faust.
Royal Philharmonic Orch/Sir Thomas Beecham, cond.

EMI is fighting budget labels with their Encore series of reissues—recordings that once were full-price but now, newly remastered, sell at less than half the price of their original issues. And there are some treasures indeed. If you're looking for a budget Planets, Rattle's Philharmonia Orchestra recording made in 1980 in Kingsway Hall is tempting and quite well-recorded, but the real attraction of this disk is Britten's Sinfonia da Requiem made four years later in Birmingham, which remains one of the finest recordings ever made of the work. Sound for the Britten is superb; Planets less so, with a too-loud dubbed in organ. Ever since their first issue, Frémaux's Massenet recordings, made in April 1971, and have been recognized for their magnificent sonic qualities; some collectors have used them as demonstration recordings—and rightfully so. The attractive Saint-Saëns pieces recorded in 1975 fill out the disk, with some intriguing soloists: famed cellist Paul Tortelier is featured in The Swan from Carnival of the Animals, and the cellist's son, Yan Pascal Tortelier, is violin soloist in the Caprice for Violin and Orchestra (since then the younger Tortelier has gained fame as a conductor and now is principal conductor of the BBC Philharmonic). Maria de la Pau, a name new to me, is listed as violin soloist in Wedding Cake, an obvious misprint as this music is for piano and orchestra. But let us not quibble; this budget CD is worth owning just for the Massenet.

Another worthy issue in this series is the Berlioz program recorded "live" in June 1991 with Mariss Jansons and the Royal Concertgebouw. These are vivid interpretations of these orchestral showpieces with the Concertgebouw Orchestra in top form, particularly in the brass department. Obviously some editing was done; the close-up miking diminishes audience sounds, some might have been edited out, but surely at the conclusion of both works there would have been vociferous applause if these were totally "live." Another fine EMI Classics issue, but in the mid-priced Great Recordings of the Century series instead of the budget-priced Encore series, is a Beecham collection issued some months ago of "French Ballet Music" which includes all works originally released on an Angel LP with that name, plus others to provide quite generous playing time (70:25). All recordings were made from 1957-1959. Most of these rather short pieces are in the "Lollipop" category in which Beecham excelled. Sound is consistently good even though the recordings were made in three venues, two in England and one in France.

R.E.B. (June 2003)