Chabrier Orchestral Music – Our Four Plus Shootout Winner

More Emmanual Chabrier




A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.

The Espana side earned our rare and coveted Four Plus (A++++) Sonic Grade – Wow! Monstrous size and dynamic power thanks to the brilliant Decca engineering of Roy Wallace. Without a doubt the most spectacular sound we’ve ever heard from CS 6438.

This Beyond White Hot Stamper London pressing has some of the loveliest orchestral music reproduction we’ve ever heard. Man, this copy sure has it going on: it’s super clean and clear, tonally correct from top to bottom, with all of the weight of the orchestra down low on side one which is very, very hard to come by on this record!

And all that weight and energy down low is what really makes Espana magical. You won’t believe the sound! 

If you want a classical record to TEST your system, if you want a classical record to DEMO your system, you will have a hard time finding a better pressing than side one of this very copy.

Who can resist these sublime orchestral works? To quote an infamous (around here) label, they are an audiophile’s dream come true. The Track Listing tab has extensive background information on most of these works.

Side One

More “real” sounding, BIGGER and RICHER than any side one we played, hence the superlative grade. Clean bottom and lower mids. Zero smear. It’s so full-bodied and rich, yet clear and clean, and spread out on such a huge stage, this side may become your go-to reference disc for Orchestral Reproduction.

Listen for the waves of sound in Espana — only the best copies bring out the energy and power of Chabrier’s remarkable orchestration.

Few classical records we play ever sound this good, and we play them by the hundreds.

Side Two

It’s DYNAMIC, energetic, and transparent like you will not believe. The sound is big and comes jumpin’ right out of the speakers.

It’s amazing all right, but side one is even more amazing!

A Longtime Favorite

This has been a favorite recording of ours here at Better Records for a very long time, since at least the mid-’90s or thereabouts. We’ve mentioned how much we like the sound of Londons with catalog numbers ranging from about 6400 to 6500 or so (which are simply Decca recordings from the mid-’60s), and this one (CS 6438) is one of the best reasons we hold that view.

You get some of the Tubey Magic and golden age sound from Decca’s earlier days, coupled with the clarity and freedom from compression and tube smear of their later period. In other words, this record strikes the perfect sonic balance, retaining qualities from different periods that are normally at odds with each other. Here they work together wonderfully.

The Typical Pressing

The typical pressing of this fairly common London has real issues, the most common ones being a lack of top end and a lack of midrange presence, making the sound darker and more distant than it should be. On the other extreme, many copies lack weight down low, thinning out the sound and washing out the lower strings. We’ve been saving up copies of this title for a while now, and dropping the needle on some of them made us wonder what the hell we saw in this record in the first place.

On many copies the strings are dry, lacking Tubey Magic. This is decidedly not our sound, although it can easily be heard on many London pressings, the kind we’ve played by the hundreds over the years. If you have a rich sounding cartridge, perhaps with that little dip in the upper midrange that so many moving coils have these days, you will not notice this tonality issue nearly as much as we do. Our 17D3 is ruler flat and quite unforgiving in this regard. It makes our shootouts much easier, but brings out the flaws in all but the best pressings, exactly the job we require it to do.

Production and Engineering

James Walker was the producer, Roy Wallace the engineer for these sessions from January of 1960 in Geneva’s glorious sounding Victoria Hall. It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording.

The gorgeous hall the Suisse Romande recorded in was possibly the best recording venue of its day, possibly of all time; more amazing sounding recordings were made there than any other hall we know of. There is a richness to the sound that exceeds all others, yet clarity and transparency are not sacrificed in the least. It’s as wide, deep and three-dimensional as any, which is of course all to the good, but what makes the sound of these recordings so special is the weight and power of the brass and the timbral accuracy of the instruments in every section.

This is the kind of record that will make you want to take all your heavy vinyl classical pressings and put them in storage. None of them, I repeat not a single one of them, can ever begin to sound the way this record sounds.

Quality record production is a lost art, and it’s been lost for a very long time.


Side One

Rhapsody “Espana”

España, rhapsody for orchestra (España, rapsodie pour orchestre) is a piece of music for orchestra by French composer Emmanuel Chabrier (1841–1894), being one of his most well-known works.

After a short guitar-like introduction, the first theme appears low on muted trumpets, and recurs four times during the piece. This is followed by a flowing second theme (bassoons, horns, cellos). Bassoons introduce another idea ben giocoso, sempre con impeto after which instrumental sections take up a dialogue with another highly rhythmic theme. After a return to the first theme, another flowing melody dolce espressivo on upper strings leads to a climax only broken by a marcato theme on trombones. Instrumental and thematic variants lead the piece to its ecstatic and joyous conclusion.

Chabrier’s España inaugurated the vogue for hispanically-flavoured music which found further expression in Debussy’s Ibéria and Ravel’s Rapsodie espagnole.

From July to December 1882 Chabrier and his wife toured Spain, taking in San Sebastian, Burgos, Toledo, Seville, Granada, Málaga, Cádiz, Cordoba, Valencia, Saragossa and Barcelona. His letters written during his travels are full of good humour, keen observation and his reactions to the music and dance he came across – and demonstrate his genuine literary gift. In a letter to Edouard Moullé (1845–1923); a long-time musician friend of Chabrier, himself interested in folk music of Normandy and Spain, the composer details his researches into regional dance forms, giving notated musical examples. A later letter to Lamoureux, from Cadiz, dated 25 October (in Spanish) has Chabrier writing that on his return to Paris he would compose an ‘extraordinary fantasia’ which would incite the audience to a pitch of excitement, and that even Lamoureux would be obliged to hug the orchestral leader in his arms, so voluptuous would be his melodies.

Although at first Chabrier worked on the piece for piano duet, this evolved into a work for full orchestra. Composed between January and August 1883, it was originally called Jota but this became España in October 1883. Encored at its first performance, and received well by the critics, it sealed Chabrier’s fame overnight. The work was praised by Lecocq, Duparc, Hahn, de Falla (who did not think any Spanish composer had succeeded in achieving so genuine a version of the jota) and even Mahler (who declared it to be “the start of modern music” to musicians of the New York Philharmonic).


Suite Pastorale

“Without hesitation,” Poulenc wrote, “I declare that the Pièces pittoresques are as important for French music as Debussy’s Préludes.” Only seven of the ten were given by Marie Poitevin at their Société Nationale premiere, August 9, 1881 — according to Cortot — though among them were the four numbers Chabrier would later orchestrate as his Suite pastorale, and for which he seems to have had an especial fondness.

But to speak of them merely as piano music, or of the Suite pastorale as a pianist’s music orchestrated, as is sometimes done, is to miss Chabrier’s distinctive compact richness and his exquisite awareness of style.

Ostensibly polite drawing room fare evoking pleasant country scenes, the first number of the Suite pastorale, “Idylle,” on the keyboard, demands, sans pedal, a Lisztian legato for its fetching melody, simultaneously accompanied by two motoric parts in Alkanesque staccato.

Though the pianistic allusions are lost, the superb and constantly varied resourcefulness with which their effects are transferred to the orchestra demonstrates the implicitness of Chabrier’s orchestral imagination in one of his most pianistic pieces. After the quietly percolating animation of the Idylle, the “Danse villageoise” has all the rumbustious vigor of a rustic clog dance. Turning raucous in its orchestral guise, it is set off by a fleet trio whose additions of instrumental color shade its spirited frolic with winsome grace. As in the first two pieces, the undulating charm of the gently ecstatic “Sous-bois” provides a foil for high-kicking gaiety in the concluding scherzo-valse. In their alternations of boisterousness and tendresse, we have the essential Chabrier.

Too often, such distinguished composers as Berlioz, Fauré, and Chabrier — quintessential Parisians all — were forced to seek recognition in the provinces or abroad. Chabrier orchestrated the Suite pastorale for a Chabrier festival offered by the Association Artistique of Angers, which he conducted November 4, 1888, with his Habañera, the Joyeuse marche, Prélude pastoral, and España.

During rehearsals under his direction, the orchestra caught on immediately to his rollicking style and were convulsed with laughter, while the critics, though generally approving, felt obliged to comment on Chabrier’s “Wagnerism” — an astounding charge as nothing could be further from the heavy metal solemnities of Wagner’s scores than these scintillant, often coruscating, dialogues between subtlety and éclat.


Side Two

Joyeuse Marche

The short Joyeuse marche of nineteenth century French composer Emmanuel Chabrier is his second most popular orchestral work, with his España taking the lead. Both of these works were written in 1888, along with his Prélude pastorale. Chabrier also drew that year upon his previously published piano pieces as a source for new orchestrations. Four 1881 vintage pieces from the Dix Pièces pittoresques were refashioned into the Suite pastorale, and Chabrier also pressed into orchestral service a Habañera written in 1885. All of these works were first presented at a concert conducted by Chabrier in Angers, France, on November 4, 1888. This group of pieces forms the core of Chabrier’s stand-alone orchestral music.

As for the Joyeuse marche, it is indeed joyous, even comical. In this work, Chabrier interrupts a high-stepping march with little tongue-in-cheek quotations and technical surprises that were designed to amuse the audiences of his day and to furrow the brows of his colleagues. Modern audiences generally do not “get” the jokes, but the spirited good fun of the Joyeuse marche is enough to put the work over in any situation, and that is what has kept it vital as a concert favorite.

There are a couple of unusual facts relating to the Joyeuse marche. First of all, the work did originate as a piano solo, despite that most sources cite Chabrier’s piano version as an “arrangement.” Secondly, there is a considerable amount of confusion regarding the correct title of the work. At its 1888 premiere, the Joyeuse marche was entitled “Marche française.” By the time of its Paris premiere the following year, the title had been changed to “Marche Joyeuse,” and in 1890 it first appeared on a Concerts Lamoureux program as Joyeuse marche. The last-named title is used as the standard in France, probably as it represents Chabrier’s own final thoughts on the matter. However, outside of France the title “Marche Joyeuse” appears interchangeably with Joyeuse marche, and in English-speaking nations this alternate title tends to be favored.

Danse Slave 
Fete Polonaise

Wikipedia on Chabrier

Emmanuel Chabrier (January 18, 1841 – September 13, 1894) was a French Romantic composer and pianist. Although known primarily for two of his orchestral works, España and Joyeuse marche, he left an important corpus of operas (including the increasingly popular L’étoile), songs, and piano music as well. These works, though small in number, are of very high quality, and he was admired by composers as diverse as Debussy, Ravel, Richard Strauss, Satie, Schmitt, Stravinsky, and the group of composers known as Les six. Stravinsky alluded to España in his ballet Petrushka, Ravel wrote that the opening bars of Le roi malgré lui changed the course of harmony in France, Poulenc wrote a biography of the composer, and Richard Strauss conducted the first staged performance of Chabrier’s incomplete opera Briséïs.

Heavy Vinyl and the TAS List

I much prefer Ansermet’s and Argenta’s performances to those of Paray on Mercury. I know of none better. It should also be noted that the famous Classic pressing of the Mercury (SR 90212) is a grainy, gritty, shrill piece of crap. I don’t know how dull and smeary a stereo would have to be in order to play a record that phony and modern sounding and make it listenable, but I know that it would have to be very dull and very smeary, with the kind of vintage sound that might work for Classic’s Heavy Vinyl pressings but not much else.

The Speakers Corner reissue of the Decca pressing is one that we used to like; we graded it a B years ago. Probably we would like it a lot less now, but without one around to play we can’t really know what it sounds like. It could have been remastered again and ruined for all we know. And are we really going to crack open and clean and critically listen to ten copies of a Heavy Vinyl pressing that has very little chance of competing with our Hot Stampers? The question answers itself.

TAS List, Really?

The fact that the Mercury is on the TAS List of Super Discs is disgraceful. Of course this lovely London is nowhere to be found on Harry’s List, which should not be too surprising. Most of the best recordings we have ever played are exactly that — not to be found on his list.

Inclusion on The TAS List doesn’t guarantee great sound, but Better Records does. If you don’t think a Hot Stamper pressing sounds as good as we’ve described, we’re always happy to take it back and refund your money. We want you to be satisfied with every record you buy from us. Good luck getting ol’ Harry to send you a check when the TAS-approved pressings you pick up don’t sound right. In our experience, most of them don’t

London Vs. Decca

A crude comparison can be made with the British London and Decca pressings of this title, assuming the tester has at least two or three of each. (Forget the domestic Londons; they are dubby and hopeless).

This bit from a Decca copy we listed in 2012 gets at the heart of it.

This Super Hot Stamper Decca reissue pressing has a superb side one, with some of the loveliest orchestral reproduction we’ve ever heard. Man, this copy has mids and highs that are hard to beat. It’s super clean and clear, harmonically and tonally correct, with real dynamics. The string tone is so sweet and silky I have to say it’s practically As Good As It Gets (AGAIG) .

As long as you can live with a lack of bass. The best London pressings have more weight, but they rarely have the sweet and open highs of this pressing.

This is, as we say, a crude comparison. Some Londons have relatively sweet, silky highs; some Deccas do not. Some Londons do not have much bass; some Deccas, on the other hand, do.

We ran into the same thing with Aqualung, Who’s Next, Thick As a Brick, ELP’s first album and quite a few others that we could list. The Brits tend to have better highs; the American pressings tend to have more and better bass.