Your Cart : 0 item
Total : Free
Your Cart is currently empty!
Product update

Review - Series 3 2003

What is Mr. Armstrong going to do for an encore?

L’Archet d’Or – Volumes IX through XII

It has been approximately three years, or issue 24 to be exact, since I began to wax rhapsodically about this new series from the Martzy man of Coup d’Archet, Glenn Armstrong.  He remains totally committed to uncovering the dazzling gems locked away in the archives of Europe’s great radio stations. I’ve talked at length about the difficulties he’s encountered in his sojourns with tapes too far deteriorated to be of use and lacquers with music no longer retrievable in any way.  (When visiting Glenn last year, I heard first hand a CDR of one of the great French pianists which alas was almost unlistenable).  Add to all of this the licensing difficulties, the politics and the egos involved, and you’re left with one of the most frustrating tasks in all of modern musicdom.  How does he do it?

He has exposed us to some of the world’s finest musicians. There are the pianists: Nadine Désouches, Cécile Ousset, Agnelle Bundervöet, Marcelle Meyer, Yvonne Lefébure, Jacqueline Eymar, Geneviève Joy, and now Germaine Thyssens-Valentin. Then there are the violins of Jeanne Gautier and Camilla Wicks. Add to this cavalcade of stars the violoncellos of the legendary Maurice Maréchal and the great André Levy and your musical journey is almost complete. Let’s not forget that fine harpsichordist Aimee Van De Wiele, and now we can add the magical Loewenguth Quartet and the flautist Michel Debost to the mix.

If you check the sidebar, you will see that once again Armstrong has offered up a wonderful, no, superlative mixture of repertoire to complete Volume Three in the L’Archet d’Or series. Peruse these offerings with care because you’re going to be hard pressed to match the music making in this one small box.  Like the previous eight records in the series, everything is fresh and new and previously unreleased.  These are not reissues and for those who love classical music, the variety here continues to impress and astound.

While I was aware of what was coming in this latest offering, I wasn’t prepared for the level, quality and calibre of playing by these artists.  I remember being green with envy when I found out Bundervöet was going to be represented with an all Ravel record.  Well, I don’t have to be green anymore.  I can enjoy this any day I like – like I do.  Ravel is one of those composers whose works I can listen to every day.  I have these pieces performed by Marcelle Meyer on Discophiles Français, Lefébure on COUP 08 and French FY/Solstice and as much as I love them, Bundervöet is too special for words.

Let me give you a quick lesson in how rare the Bach by André Levy truly is.  Levy of course, like Maréchal, uses the long-bow technique. This creates a different tone from the sound box of the cello.  Levy recorded the complete Suites for unaccompanied cello for the French label Lumen in the 1950s. This is an ultra rare set of records and whenever it appears on the collectors market you can be sure the price will approach £10,000!  Think about it.  I don’t know where Armstrong uncovered this gem, but this alone is more than worth the price of ALL twelve records in the complete series so far.  These performances are very special and they certainly give the illusion that the maestro is in your listening room and playing just for you.  To have two of the six suites is quite simply a fabulous treat.  The performance, sound and presentation are intimate in every sense.

The recordings of the group, Le Trio de France (Jeanne Gautier, Geneviève Joy and André Levy) are so rare as to non-existent. To have this document on our shelves, the trio playing the Ravel as well as the spectacular Turina is, quite frankly, more than I ever expected from this series. The playing and the music on this record is sublime. Joaquin Turina’s trio dates from 1926 and is a composition which oozes the feel and flavour of Spain’s yesteryear. It’s a work I’ve never heard on vinyl before – although there are several compact discs available – and hearing it performed by this group it has been another high mark from this set.  The Ravel trio is one of my favourite French chamber works and these superlative artists have taught me much.

ORX is an excellent record offering performances of two wonderful compositions from Gabriel Fauré.  Thyssens-Valentin recorded the second quintet (op.115) with the Quartet from the ORTF for André Charlin on Charlin’s own label as CL11.  Wait until you hear the performance with the Loewenguth Quartet.  The playing is warm and insightful from artists with a great passion for this work.  A major surprise for me was the Fantasy for Flute and Piano.  I’m familiar with Debost and a fine flautist he is.  I wracked my brain because I knew I had heard this Fantasy before.  Sure enough, in my collection I found to the French EMI boxed set C165-16332/6 containing the near complete Fauré chamber works.  There it was, and while the pianist was Jean-Phillipe Collard (son of the great piano accompanist André Collard), the flautist was none other than Michel Debost!  Well this was fun; a chance to compare.  While the performances are more than a decade and a half apart and the EMI is stereo while the L’Archet d’Or is mono, it wasn’t, for me, even close.  The sound on Armstrong’s release easily betters the sound of the French EMI while, quite frankly, the performances themselves are leagues apart. Debost is grand on both, but the nod definitely goes to the 1961 performance. It’s more intimate, alive and delicate. There is a nuance and heartfelt passion which clearly comes through on the mono recording.

And you’ll realise just what is out there waiting to be discovered – and what we’ve been putting up with.  This is a deeply rewarding series and while some might balk at the price of £300 per set, as a strictly limited edition of 250 copies per box, it’s a bargain.  These performances will never see compact disc and when they are gone…… they’re gone.  My hat is off to Glenn Armstrong for truly excelling himself.  I’m not going to even dream about what he has in store for us next!

Richard S. Foster Hifi+ issue 46, 2006
Coup d'Archet