Masques et Bergamasques: A Brief Comparison

A short post here about a short and little known miniature masterpiece from Fauré, the Suite from his Masques and Bergamasques. I learned the piece in a selection from Orpheus on a DGG CD that holds up in every way against the older 51E5ZG4S8VLanalog classics, a performance that is light an ethereal in its sonics and mood. I’ve not always been a fan of their directorless format, but it works here, in a Fin-de-Cyclé mode (in fairness, the work was premiered 1924).

The classic vinyl performance, as with so much of this French repertoire, comes from Ansermet 100_0548and the OSR (1962). my copy is a London blueback CS-6627. The fuller orchestral sound is just as delicate but richer and more dramatic. The chamber version is more intimate, but Ansermet is at his best here is making a big band sound small — for me, he did what Beecham’s acolytes always proclaimed in Schubert, for example, but to much more effect. Still, the Orpheus version has more joie de vivre. In the final movement the larger scoring does begin to weigh and feel a bit ponderous. (On CD here.)

Audio of Ansermet here in the Overture:

Compare the Orpheus version:

100_0551

As a curiosity I acquired a 45rpm version of the same recording (Masques only, without the LP’s Debussy pairing) SEC-5526. The sound is lighter and airier, and while the depth of sound is predictably lesser, the sound bounces more happily as with the later Orpheus CD. 45rpm pressings of classical records, especially vintage ones, are always tricky, often trading sonic depth for clarity. This is an interesting case study.

Of later records, the Plasson/Toulouse record struck me as routine and I didn’t keep it (on CD here) — one of those complete works projects that seemed just that, a complete-100_0543works-project. Unfortunately Ozawa did not include Masques on his superb 1986 Boston record (DGG 423-089), which features Pelleas et Melisande, Dolly, etc. The Boston Symphony Hall sound here is glorious, as should be expected, and one can only imagine how the melodies would have unfolded. (Here on CD.)

About Jonathan Riehl

Jonathan Riehl writes and teaches communications, rhetoric, and American politics. He used to be a Republican. View all posts by Jonathan Riehl

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