Obituary - Louis Frémaux (1921-2017)

by Chris O'Reilly. 27th March 2017

The French conductor Louis Frémaux, who played a vital role in bringing French repertoire and orchestral style to the UK through his work with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, has died at the age of 95.

Born near Calais on 13th August 1921, Frémaux was educated at the Valenciennes Conservatoire before the Second World War (during which he was a member of the French Resistance), resuming his studies in Paris thereafter and graduating in 1952. He spent his early career at the Opéra de Monte-Carlo (an appointment championed by Prince Rainier), and subsequently went on to be the first musical director of the Orchestre Philharmonique Rhone-Alpes, now the Orchestre national de Lyon.

From 1969-1978 Frémaux was principal conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, where his innovations included setting up the CBSO Chorus and developing the orchestra’s relationship with EMI/Erato, whose attention he had attracted during his early work in France (his recordings of the requiems of Jean Gilles andAndré Campra did much for the reputation of conductor and composers alike, with the former disc receiving a Grand Prix du Disc in 1956); they were particularly acclaimed for their recordings of French repertoire, with highlights of their discography including Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, Saint-Saëns’s Carnival of the Animals, Ibert’s Divertissement, and the ballet music from Massenet’s Le Cid. He was also committed to new music, where his legacy included the British premieres of symphonies by John McCabe and Henri Dutilleux, and the first broadcast performance of Humphrey Searle’s Labyrinth. On leaving the CBSO (where he was replaced by the then 25 year old Simon Rattle), he was appointed chief conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

Frémaux’s death was announced by French media over the weekend.

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Louis Frémaux - a selected discography

Louis Frémaux: The Complete CBSO Recordings

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Louis Frémaux

Due to be released on 21st April, this 12-CD box focuses on the French repertoire in which Frémaux inspired his Birmingham orchestra to excel, including works by Berlioz, Saint-Saëns, Ibert, Lalo and Honegger.

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Ravel: La Valse, Daphnis et Chloé - Suite No. 2, Ma Mère l'Oye & Boléro

London Symphony Orchestra, Louis Frémaux

'The eruptive Danse Générale is as bacchanalian as you could wish. La Valse shivers, lilts and mesmerises just as it should. Bolero is nicely done with plenty of character from the LSO first benches.' (MusicWebInternational)

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Saint-Saëns: Organ Symphony & Carnival of the Animals

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Louis Frémaux

'Although recorded in EMI's hi-fi orientated Studio Two system which usually produced a bright treble response, the Fremaux version of the Saint-Saëns Symphony was noted primarily for its opulence.' (Gramophone)

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Chopin: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2

Samson François (piano), Orchestre National de l’Opéra de Monte-Carlo, Louis Frémaux

'François plays well and provides glittering yet poetically flexible passagework in the finales. Both slow movements are sensitively played and Frémaux keeps the accompaniments vivaciously alive and flowing throughout.' (Gramophone)

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Gala Evening at Monte Carlo Opera

Renata Scotto (soprano), Orchestre National de l’Opéra de Monte-Carlo, Louis Frémaux

'Stylish, familiar, entertaining. Louis Frémaux reveals clearly that he's one of Europe's most talented young conductors, at ease in a wide range of works.' (Billboard)

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Walton: Symphony No. 1

Philharmonia Orchestra, Louis Frémaux

'What an understanding Waltonian he is...a beautifully paced, well-played account of the First Symphony, which consistently reveals his natural feeling for the ebb-and-flow of tension as well as of rubato needed in this of all Walton's works.' (Gramophone)

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