Louis Frémaux’s studies at the Valenciennes Conservatoire were interrupted by the outbreak of World War II. In 1940 the occupying German forces placed him in a labour camp, but he escaped and joined first the French Resistance and then the Foreign Legion, serving from 1945 to 1947 in Vietnam, where he was twice awarded the Croix de Guerre. Eventually in 1947 Frémaux entered the Paris Conservatoire, studying conducting with Louis Fourestier and in 1952 winning the first prize for conducting. A piece of good luck came with the concert given for his conducting diploma with a student orchestra, in that since it was a memorial concert for Delvaincourt, the recently-deceased principal of the Conservatoire, it was attended by many senior figures of the French musical world, and as a result Frémaux was awarded a recording contract by the then-young French company Erato. Many of his subsequent recordings for Erato were of music of the French Baroque: one of these, the Requiem by Gilles, was very successful and won the Grand Prix du Disque in 1956.
In the same year Frémaux was appointed chief conductor of the Monte Carlo Opera Orchestra, a post he held until 1965. With this orchestra he introduced concerts in the Monaco royal palace and made several records of shorter pieces and operatic excerpts for Deutsche Grammophon. In addition he appeared as a guest conductor in Europe, the Far East and South America; during 1968 he conducted the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra for the first time, making such a positive impression that he was offered the post of chief conductor with effect from the following year, in addition to serving as the first chief conductor of the newly formed Orchestre Philharmonique Rhone-Alpes from 1969 to 1971.
During his time with the CBSO Frémaux improved the playing standards of the orchestra considerably, giving it a strong sense of style, especially in the French repertoire. For EMI he and the orchestra made a series of distinguished recordings, almost all of music by French composers. He remained with the Birmingham orchestra until 1978, unexpectedly resigning following the departure of the orchestra’s manager, who was also his agent. Subsequently Frémaux went on to be closely associated with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in Australia, serving as its chief conductor from 1979 to 1981 and then as its principal guest conductor from 1981 to 1985.
Louis Frémaux’s performances were characterised by the key elements of the French style: elegance, polish and precision. These attributes were to the fore in several of his recordings with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, such as Fauré’s Requiem, Saint-Saëns’s Symphony No. 3 ‘Organ’, Bizet’s Symphony in C and his suite Roma, Poulenc’s Gloria and Massenet’s ballet music from his opera Le Cid. Other performances of note by these forces included Honegger’s Pacific 231, Ibert’s Divertissement, and Poulenc’s Les Biches. While the French repertoire remained the core of his concert activity, Frémaux’s musical sympathies were wide, ranging from Beethoven to Britten: his recording of John McCabe’s Symphony No. 2 and his orchestral song-cycle Notturni ed Alba did much to spread the reputation of this composer. Other recordings of note included superb accounts of Italian and French operatic overtures with the Monte Carlo Opera Orchestra, and of the two Chopin piano concertos with Samson François as soloist.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Conductors, Naxos 8.558087–90).