HD-Vinyls 24/96 (Decca) Jules Massenet – Esclarmonde (Sutherland)

Reuploaded, now with FF links

# Composer: Jules Massenet
# Performer: Joan Sutherland, Giacomo Aragall, Huguette Tourangeau, Clifford Grant, Robert Lloyd
# Orchestra: National Philarmonic Orchestra
# Conductor: Richard Bonynge
# Vinyls (1975)
# Number of Discs: 3
# Format: Flac
# Label: Decca
# DR-Analysis: DR 15
# Size: 2.88 GB
# Scan: yes
# Server: FF

I have listend to this recording many times, and like it very much. It is a wonderful opera and a thrilling performance. Joan Sutherland is at her best, and the rest of the cast is fine. However, any resemblance to Wagner is merely superficial, and apparently based on a casual use of Leitmotives. To me, this music does not sound like Wagner at all, and comes nowhere near his use of chromaticism and symphonic development, not to mention psychological depth. In fact, I think calling it Wagnerian based on merely the size of the orchestra does both Wagner and Massenet an injustice. Massenet speaks for himself, and does not need to be compared to any other composer, including Wagner.

I first fell in love with this recording on its release in the mid 70’s. I was amazed to re-discover what prime entertainment it is and how much of it I remembered, such is the theatrical impact of Massenet’s invention.

It is a carefully calculated admixture of elements aimed at satisfying the tastes of a Parisian fin du siècle audience: Wagnerian chromaticism, spectacle, magic, Arthurian legend, courtly love, eastern exoticism, patriotism…you name it, it’s in here, all bound together by an unending stream of sinuous, long-breathed melody typical of Massenet before he entered a sparer, more restrained, Autumnal phase. Nothing succeeds like excess and Massenet takes no chances; he had heard the phenomenal voice of Sybil Sanderson, knew it was capable of wild things and hence wrote music to suit its extraordinary power and flexibility. No major singer in more recent times apart from Joan Sutherland has dared take it on – and here you can hear why. She hurls out top C’s and D’s – and even a D sharp – and apart from some habitually cloudy forays into the lower register is in prime voice here at forty-nine in 1975 when this was recorded. She is not the only star here: she is partnered by a youthful Giacomo Aragall who gives ample evidence of why he was the only tenor of that decade to challenge Carreras for sheer plangent beauty of voice (Pavarotti was a different barrel of monkeys; brilliance rather than pathos was his strength). Try the duet in Act 2 Scene 2: strongly reminiscent of “Lohengrin” it is a simply captivating outpouring of erotic passion, both artists singing with a kind of abandon which is all too rare. They transmute some conventional vocal poses and emotional postures into pure operatic gold. But theirs are not the only great voices to be encountered in this recording; the cast list reads like a roll-call of 70’s opera stars. Clifford Grant is the first to pin back our ears with his rolling bass; then in addition to the two stars we hear Huguette Tourangeau’s strangely throaty yet attractive mezzo, sturdy baritone Louis Quilico and sonorous basso cantante Robert Lloyd at his peak as Principal Bass of the Royal Opera and a fine supporting cast. Tourangeau and Ryland Davies have their own much gentler love music, acting as a kind of parallel to that of Esclarmonde and Roland.

I think this one of the best things Richard Bonynge has conducted; he is in sympathy with Massenet’s indulgent style and the New Philharmonic Orchestra play richly, the preponderance of bassoons, horns and harps lending kaleidoscopic colour to the heady combination of chivalric heroism, otherworldly enchantment and lush orientalism which characterises this score.

This recording could be said to represent the best of many things: the kind of ensemble Decca gathered to record opera in the 70’s; Decca’s spacious sound as facilitated by the grateful acoustic of the now demolished Kingsway Hall; the best of Dame Joan along with her second “Lucia”; Aragall in finest, freshest voice before stage nerves compromised his career; Massenet in his most expansive and Romantic mode. Massenet had recently heard “Parsifal” when he came to write “Esclarmonde”. He attempts no spiritual or philosophical profundity of the kind intended by Wagner, but he borrows much of his musical idiom, some of his themes and creates a work on a typically Wagnerian grand scale but marrying it with Gallic lyricism. Massenet’s magic island has none of the sinister threat of Klingsor’s castle and Esclarmonde recalls the allure of the Flower Maidens without their ambiguty.

The French is pretty good even if Aragall cannot avoid the usual Hispanic difficulty with the vowel in the word “main”, making it too flat and nasal. Otherwise, this is a great recording of an opera presumably neglected for want of a singer able to do the stratospheric coloratura justice. Fortunately, we have this Decca set to remind us of its virtues – and it enshrines the performance of a great singer whose huge, flexible voice could handle it.

 Analyzed folder: /Users/alfredo/Desktop/ HiResMusic/96k_mssnt_sclrmnd/96kMassenet – Esclarmonde – Sutherland
 DR        Peak        RMS        Filename
 DR15        -0.12 dB     -20.59 dB     SideA.wav
 DR16        -0.00 dB     -22.02 dB     SideB.wav
 DR14        -0.74 dB     -20.32 dB     SideC.wav
 DR15        -0.05 dB     -20.38 dB     SideD.wav
 DR15        -0.47 dB     -21.02 dB     SideE.wav
 DR14        -0.81 dB     -20.05 dB     SideF.wav
 Number of files:    6
 Official DR value:    DR15

Ripping Infos

  • RCM: Okki Nokki
  • TT: Clearaudio Champion Level II
  • System: Special Edition Denon DL 103
  • Phono stage: Pro-Ject Phono Box II
  • Pre Amp: Unison Research Unico Pre (Tube)
  • Finals: Opera Consonance 9.9 Mono (Tube)
  • Speakers: Dali Helikon 400
  • Connections: MIT Terminator, Audioquest Emerald, Audioquest Quartz
  • Software: iZotope RX Advanced v2.02, Adobe Audition CS 5.5 -> Wave 32 bit/96 kHz
  • Light de-Clicking with ClickRepair, significant clicks manually removing, no De-Noising

You hear some clicks and pops here and there? Who cares?
I better let some light anomalies instead of destroying the music. Enjoy the music, not the ticks & pops.

  • DR-Analisys before converting to Flac
  • Converting Wave 32bit/96kHz -> Flac 24bit/96kHz: Twisted Wave
  • Artwork: Sony Alpha 350, Epson Perfection V750 Pro, Photoshop CS 5.5

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11 thoughts on “HD-Vinyls 24/96 (Decca) Jules Massenet – Esclarmonde (Sutherland)

  1. SUPER- WOW! Dear Rachmaninov, this is an incredible gift! The music is wonderful and so the cast!
    I love you :mrgreen:

    Thank you again for all you efforts aiming to make our life better!

  2. I once heard this opera called boring, and I still cannot get it through my head how. It is simply stunning, especially with Joan Sutherland in the title role. Thank you so much for this high-quality vinyl rip!

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