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Classical - Released January 1, 2004 | Mercury (Universal France)

Recorded between 1956 and 1962, these performances represent the core repertoire of French Romantic music that Paul Paray explored during his tenure with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. A comprehensive collection that includes essential masterpieces along with several works that have fallen by the wayside, this five-disc set offers more than most listeners will want. Even so, a few will find it educational and enjoyable for its unusual contents and for the DSO's vigorous playing. Paray's energetic, vibrant reading of Saint-Saëns' Symphony No. 3 in C minor, "Organ," holds up quite well, even by contemporary standards; and the renditions of Bizet's Carmen and L'Arlésienne Suites are more exciting and theatrical than many other later recordings, which boast better sound but lack true drama. One may pick and choose among the less fashionable works by Barraud, Auber, Thomas, Hérold, and Lalo, and even find Paray's own Mass for the 500th Anniversary of the Death of Joan of Arc a bit tedious. But fans of Paray's conducting and buffs of historical recordings will relish this set's "time-capsule" quality, and gladly accept its eccentricities. The acoustics of Ford Auditorium, Old Orchestra Hall, and Cass Technical High School vary considerably, but Mercury has remastered these extraordinary recordings well and balanced the sound admirably.