Two first-ever releases from 1965 Philips sessions of 18th-century music for the stage conducted by the supremely versatile Sir Charles Mackerras.
Eighteenth-century music had been a passion for Charles Mackerras ever since childhood. ‘What I particularly like is the beautiful symmetry of it,’ he said in 1977, ‘and the extremely florid decoration which you find in the Baroque art of central Europe. I’ve tried hard not only to be a scholar and a musicologist but to try and interpret old music in the old way, in the way that the composers imagined it. I passionately believe in trying to recreate the sound, the actual noise that is made by an orchestra of Baroque dimensions. The right sound is a little raw.’
In 1964 Mackerras had conducted the UK broadcast premiere of Rameau’s Castor et Pollux, and the following year he made a selection of dance music from his own edition of the score, and took it into the studios with the London Symphony Orchestra. When compiling a complementary suite from Gluck’s opera based on the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice, he also took an imaginative rather than academic approach, mixing music from both the original Vienna and the later Paris versions of the score in order to include all of its most affecting episodes such as the grand Overture and the quiet rapture of the Dance of the Blessed Spirits.
The LSO may have been playing on modern instruments, but Mackerras marshalled them in a passable imitation of ‘period’ style, with woodwinds to the fore and a liberal use of the ornamentation which, he insisted, was essential to a sensitive performance of music from this era. Time has proved him right; countless period performers have followed in the wake of these agenda-setting recordings.
At the same sessions, Mackerras and the LSO recorded a pair of light-hearted overtures which once enjoyed a certain currency in concert but are now almost totally neglected, to Anacréon by Cherubini and Il Matrimonio segreto by Cimarosa. These performances were never published (though not for any technical or musical reasons); they receive here their-first ever release in any format, and share in the excellence of the Gluck and Rameau recordings.