Édouard Lalo is one of those composers that you really want to like. His masterpiece, the ballet Namouna, is a wonderful, colorful, tuneful score, as the six extracts presented here prove. The Danses marocaines and brilliant Fête foraine (which closes the disc) show the composer in the best possible light. His popular cello concerto also is very appealing once you get past the first movement, with its dysfunctional take on sonata-form and clunky orchestral writing. The Symphony in G minor is a rarity, though Beecham championed it (a performance recently reissued by EMI). At less than half an hour, it’s an easy piece to digest, made easier by its tunefulness, although it sounds much earlier than its 1886 composition date. Certainly this is no Franck or Saint-Saëns, but it’s very nice have it in modern sound.
The performances here are stunning. Torleif Thedéen is a terrific soloist, playing every note as if he really means it, and while he’s not afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve (the finale’s introduction), it’s never to the point where he sounds sleazy. Kees Bakels and his Malaysian orchestra play the living daylights out of all of this music, offering bold, gutsy rhythms (in the symphony and concerto as much as the ballet) and delivering the music with the conviction that it needs. You might come away thinking that all three works are masterpieces, and I can’t praise the performers more than that. The sonics have great range and impact, but they also capture an unusual amount of performance noises–clicking keys, scraping bows, and the like. It’s a small price to pay for such intense interpretations. I just wish that they had given us a complete Namouna. [4/26/2006]