Never mind the Symphonie espagnole and Le roi d’Ys, Edouard Lalo is the last of the great unknowns in 19th-century French music. His mature instrumental works combine the wisdom drawn from his professional playing experience with the familiar flair for rhythm and colour. They are likely to transform any opinion you may hold: it isn’t often that the inspiration of Beethoven was so well digested in France. The first two trios don’t really count as mature, and although they contain fine things, especially in the scherzos, their characteristic soul, sweep and dash are often clumsily handled. With No. 3, form and feeling are as one, the first movement’s surges integral to its progress to a hushed end, while the slow movement builds a powerful span from a sustained melody. Between them comes the irresistible piece better known in Lalo’s later arrangement as a Scherzo for orchestra. These performances have the necessary robustness without stinting on delicacy.
In the early '50s, Ray Charles took the fiery passion of gospel and the hard-hitting sound of the blues, and by putting them together he created a whole new sound in rhythm & blues that helped make him a legend in American music.
This two-fer CD pairs 1972's Live at the Lighthouse with the less impressive, though still worthy, 1974 album Kharma, which was recorded at that year's Montreux Jazz Festival. As the head of a sextet on Live at the Lighthouse, Earland spearheaded some first-class soul-jazz, which integrated some funk and rock of the early '70s without sounding like a watered-down cocktail of all those styles (as many other soul-jazz-pop albums of the time did). The horn section of James Vass on sax and Elmer Coles on trumpet leaned more toward soul than jazz, as heard on the opening instrumental cover of Sly & the Family Stone's "Smilin'." The Carpenters' "We've Only Just Begun" wasn't the greatest tune to attempt, though Earland gamely put it into a boppish swing arrangement.
The steady increase in recordings of his music has now established Suk as one of the great musical poets of the early 20th century. Too much is made of his affinities with his teacher and father-in-law, Dvorák; for his own part, Dvorák never imposed his personality on his pupils and Suk's mature music owes him little more than a respect for craft and an extraordinarily well developed ear for orchestral colour. His affinities in the five-movement A Summer's Tale, completed in 1909 – a magnificent successor to his profound Asrael Symphony – reflect Debussy and parallel the music of his friend Sibelius and Holst, but underpinning the musical language is a profound originality energising both form and timbre.
Mackerras's recording joins a select band: Šejna's vintage performance on Supraphon and Pešek's inspired rendition with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic; his is an equal to them both and the Czech Philharmonic's playing is both aspiring and inspiring.