FAURE: Orchestral Music (John Georgiadis/ Lynda Russell/ Michael Healy/ RTE Sinfonietta) (Naxos: 8.553360)
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Gabriel Urbain Fauré was born in France in May 1845, and at an early age pleased his father by showing an aptitude towards music. He was sent the Ecole Neidermeyer in Paris, where he found the education thorough but somewhat unrewarding. During his time there Saint-Saens became the piano teacher and it was the stimulus he needed, for here was musician who was saying something new. It was to be a lasting friendship.
His discovery of the music of Wagner was to be the other major influence on his music, and throughout much of his life he attempted to write music on a large scale.
The appointment as organist at a church in Rennes in 1866, isolated him in provincial France, and on his return to Paris he could not obtain a major appointment. The situation was compounded by marriage and the birth of two sons, such financial commitments requiring his free time being devoted to teaching. It may have been a slight exaggeration, but his desire to compose now had to be restricted to school holidays.
He was already in his late forties when some rather unexpected appointments led to his name coming before the Paris Conservatoire as a composition tutor, and among his pupils were Ravel, Koechlin, Enescu and Nadia Boulenger. It was the public scandal that surrounded Ravel's failure to win the Prix de Rome that was the catalyst for sweeping changes at the Conservatoire, and Fauré was suddenly thrust into the position of Director. It was strange that this mild mannered man should have been so instrumental in the changes that followed, and shaped French music to an extent that affects music of today.
He held the position for 15 years, retiring in 1920. Towards the latter end of his time at the Conservatoire he was able to devote more time to composition, though strangely enough his retirement did not see any major upsurge in new works.
His catalogue of works includes operas, oratorios (including the famous Requiem), orchestral scores, and an amount of chamber music and songs.
The earliest work on the disc is the Berceuse from 1879, composed for piano and violin. There appears to have been no particular reason to write the work, and it is a short and romantic score lasting little over three minutes. He later orchestrated the score, its high opus number indicating late publication.
The Dolly Suite, a work in six movements, was written between 1893 and 1897, for piano duet. Dolly was the pet name for Hélène Bardac, the young daughter of the singer, Emma Bardac. Each movement is a cameo of something in her young life, from a cradle-song to the picture of Dolly's Garden. The score has become better known in the orchestration by Henri Rabaud.
That work comes from the period when Fauré was at last being recognised. Also in 1893 he was asked to write the incidental music to Shylock, Edmond Haraucourt's French view of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. Strangely enough, with the changed title in mind, it is the lovers who take centre-stage, so that the six movements are of a gentle rather than dramatic nature. Two of the sections include a role for voice, originally performed by a tenor.
His Pelléas et Mélisande has been in the shadow of Debussy's opera of 1902, but in 1898 it was Fauré who had shown interest in the possibility of an opera with the incidental music he composed for a London production of the play. It had to be completed in a matter of weeks, and it was Fauré's pupil, Koechlin, who was responsible for the orchestration. In four movements, one can only ponder on the opera that Fauré could have written, as this is some of his most beautiful music.
In 1918, towards the end of his role as Director, came his best known orchestral work, Masques et Bergamasques. It was commissioned by Prince Albert of Monaco, and was a choreographic divertissement. It allowed Fauré to use his vivid musical imagination, and also to use material that he had previously composed. The Suite contains four contrasting sections, with a piquancy often missing in Fauré's music.
Lynda Russell is one of today's outstanding British sopranos. Born in Birmingham, she is a product of London's Royal College of Music, and has appeared with most of the country's leading opera companies. She also frequently appears in song recitals, and has a major concert career. For Naxos she has recorded Mahler, Schubert and Britten's War Requiem.
One of Europe's most versatile ensembles, Ireland's RTE Concert Orchestra appears in Dublin's major concert season, or is equally at home in the Eurovision Song Contest. For recordings it is often augmented and then takes the name RTE Sinfonietta. In 1998 the Concert Orchestra has a coast to coast tour of the USA. For Naxos it has recorded Mendelssohn, Walton (still to be released), and a number of British Light Music discs for Marco Polo.
The conductor, John Georgiadis, is still largely associated with the London Symphony Orchestra, of which he was the most distinguished leader for eleven years. He subsequently turned to conducting and made a number of appearances with the LSO. He studied with one of the legends of the podium, Sergiu Celibidache. He has been a free-lance conductor around the world since the 1980's and became Music Director of the London Virtuosi in 1987. His recording of the Weber symphonies for Naxos was awarded one of the rare rosettes in the Penguin Guide to Compact Discs.