Gounod: Faust, highlights (CD review)

Nicolai Gedda, Victoria de los Angeles; Andre Cluytens, Paris Opera Orchestra and Chorus. EMI Classics for Pleasure 0946 3 93376 2.

The most striking things about this classic, 1958 recording of the opera Faust by Charles Gounod (1818-1893) are its energy and drive. It is quite possibly the liveliest production of the work you’re likely to hear.

Andre Cluytens directs the Paris Opera Orchestra and Chorus with a vigor and enthusiasm one seldom encounters in any opera recording, let alone this one, and Nicolai Gedda as the ill-advised Faust and Victoria de los Angeles as the naive heroine Marguerite are equally brilliant, particularly de los Angeles. Moreover, Boris Christoff as Mephistopheles is wonderfully sinister, cackling away like the demented demon he is, and catching fire, no doubt, from the conductor.

For an older recording, the sound is remarkably vivid, too, with good clarity, depth, and stage presence, if not a lot of heft or warmth. It comes off a little forward and wiry, and I would liked to have heard a little more deep bass, especially from the organ, and maybe a touch more ambient bloom. But voices project well, so I shouldn’t complain when the performance is mainly about voice, anyway.

Although this single disc of highlights runs to some seventy-five minutes, for those listeners wanting the complete opera, EMI have also issued the three-disc set in their “Great Recordings of the Century” series. Still, for about five or six bucks, it’s hard to pass up this truncated release because, well, for one, the opera is a bit corny and sentimental by today’s standards and a highlights disc still does it justice; and, two, even if you’re just mildly interested in it, you won’t have expended much to satisfy your curiosity.


1 comment:

  1. I love this opera. But to savor it fully one needs a more rhythmically alert conductor than Cluytens.
    There are several "live" recordings I savor.
    First, there is Jean Morel's Metropolitan Opera broadcast recording featuring Bjoerling, Soederstroem, Siepi, and Merrill. No French singer in the cast, yet the two Swedish leading singers are superb.
    Then there is Pierre Monteux' s Metropolitan Opera broadcast with Jan Peerce, Victoria de los Angeles, Cesare Siepi and Robert Merrill. The Soldier Chorus is exhilarating especially with the snappy snare drum.


John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa