The Belgian-naturalized, French conductor André Cluytens occupies an interesting position in the pantheon of French maestros. He was the first French conductor to sell a million records and was also the first conductor after the war to record a Beethoven cycle with the Berlin Philharmonic. In 1957 when Cluytens commenced his performances, the Berlin orchestra was still very much under the influence of Furtwängler, who had died fours years before. Yet today it is Pierre Monteux and Charles Munch who are remembered as the great French conductors despite Cluytens making some very fine recordings and dominating the opera houses of Bayrueth and Paris for many seasons until his untimely death in 1967 at the age of sixty two.
His reputation suffered not because of his musical qualities but because he had been charged and convicted of being a collaborator during the World War 2 and this derailed him for some years despite being eventually exonerated of this crime and being allowed to continue his career.
Charles de Gaulle didn't like him and this led to his not being offered the job of principal conductor of the newly formed Orchestra de Paris in the mid sixties.
All this aside, the box set's 65 discs are half mono and half stereo and all the major recordings he made with the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra are very good indeed. He worked with Ravel in the '30s and his readings of Ravel's orchestral and concerto output are both stylish and well balanced with the EMI engineers giving Cluytens the best sound then available given the early days of stereo imaging.
His recordings of Debussy are also worth collecting and he made the first commercial recording of The Martyrdom of St. Sebastien which was unfinished at Debussy's death with a fine all French cast which is a rarity and never released on CD before. His concerto partnerships include Emil Gilels in Beethoven and Rachmaninov and Aldo Ciccolini in French repertoire as well as Oistrakh in Beethoven. Also, there is Wagner, Shostakovich and Strauss also included from various stages of his career.
It is without doubt his stereo cycle of Beethoven symphonies which has kept his memory alive for many over the years and I still have a soft spot for these performances as they were the first accounts I ever heard on record when EMI released them on Classics for Pleasure in the '70s. If you want to hear what the Berlin orchestra sounded like before Karajan took over then these performances in excellent sound give you a close idea.
Cluytens belongs to the era when style and musicianship coupled with impeccable phrasing were the key elements to performance and this coupled with a fine sense of Gallic drama make these performances worth a listen.
The box contains an interesting booklet and there are comprehensive listings of dates to every performance recorded. Altogether an investment worth making if you like French music, style and charm. Very highly recommended.
The Complete Orchestral and Concerto Recordings
65 CD Box Set