French Festival (Gunter Appenheimer/ Keith Clark/ Ondrej Lenard/ Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.550088)
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Joyeuse marche - Emmanuel Chabrier (1841-1894)
Pavane pour une infante defunte - Maurice Ravel(1875 -1937)
Sicilienne, Opus 78 - Gabriel Faure (1845 -1924)
Berceuse - Benjamin Godard (1849- 1895)
La terrasse des audiences au clair de lune- Claude Debussy (1862- 1918)
Gymnopedies I & II - Erik Satie (1866- 1925)
Intermezzo - Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880)
Clair de lune - Claude Debussy (1862 -1918)
Pavane, Opus 50 - Gabriel Faure (1845 -1924)
Barcarole - Jacques Offenbach (1819 - 1880)
Berceuse, Opus 16 - Gabriel Faure (1845 -1924)
Danse macabre, Opus 40 - CamilleSaint-Sa?½ns (1835 - 1921)
French Festival offers a variety of French music, principally from the nineteenth century,ranging from Offenbach, the Johann Strauss of Paris, to Debussy and Ravel.
Emmanuel Chabrier, composer of the Joyeusemarche, was born in Ambert, Puy-de-D??me, in 1841, the son of a lawyer,whose profession he was destined to follow. As a child he showed considerablemusical precocity, but followed the wishes of his family in his choice ofcareer, graduating as a lawyer in 1861, when he entered the Ministry of theInterior. He continued a double career as a composer and as a civil servantuntil 1880, when the impression made on him by hearing Wagner's Tristan undIsolde led him to turn solely to music. Chabrier's works include pianopieces and the popular orchestral rhapsody Espana, as well as a numberof dramatic works, by the last of which he set considerable store. The Joyeusemarche was written in 1888 and originally intended for the piano. The finalversion was dedicated to Vincent d'Indy and is scored for a large orchestra,the music aptly expressing the emotion of the title.
Maurice Ravel's Pavane pour une Infantedefunte owed its title, if we believe the composer, to euphony rather thanto any particular dead Spanish princess. Composed for the piano in 1899, thepiece was dedicated to Princess Edmond de Polignac and orchestrated in 1910.
The Pavane reflects a certain fin de si?¿cle melancholy that Ravel hereshares with his teacher at the conservatoire, Gabriel Faure, and was writtenthe year after he had entered the latter's composition class. In spite of theimmense popularity of the piece and the growing reputation that Ravel enjoyed,he was to lose in five attempts at the prestigious Prix de Rome, failingto impress the academic judges of the musical establishment. He was to live toenjoy an unrivalled reputation.
The Sicilienne, in origin a Baroquepastoral dance, was to prove as popular a piece for Faure as his pupil's Pavane.
It was written in 1893, scored for cello and piano and dedicated to the Englishcellist W.H. Squire. The piece formed part of the incidental music forperformances of Moli?¿re's Le bourgeois gentilhomme in that year and waslater included, in Charles Koechlin's orchestration, in incidental music forMaeterlinck's evocatively medieval Pelleas et Melisande. Faure's Pavane,a work that deeply impressed Debussy, was written in 1887 and scored for asmall orchestra, with additional words in the manner of Verlaine for anoptional choir, which adds little to the music. It has about it an air ofnostalgia, yearning, as so often, for an idealised past, that is shared by the Berceuse
of 1878-9. Originally scored for violin and piano, but orchestrated in 1898.
The three pieces by Faure, a pupil and close friend of Camille Saint-Sa?½ns, whotaught him at the Ecole Niedermeyer in Paris, are typical of his style, withhis gift for beauty of melody, charged with an intense yet gentle sadness.
The reputation of Benjamin Godard hassuffered in the course of time. In his day he was a distinguished viola-playerand won a reputation in Paris at first for salon music. His ambitions extendedbeyond trivia of this kind, and he won contemporary triumph with his dramaticsymphony on the theme of Tasso, a poet whose misfortunes held a particularappeal for the romantic imagination. Godard's operas enjoyed markedly lesssuccess and Jocelyn, first performed in Brussels in 1888, is chieflyremembered for the second act Berceuse, in which the hero, having takenrefuge in an eagles' cave, watches over his charge, the sleeping Laurence,whose escape he has assisted.
Claude Debussy was to suffer from theexcessive popularity of Clair de lune, a short and evocative piano piecethat had formed the third item in his Suite Bergamasque, completed in1905. Resenting the label Impressionist bestowed on him by contemporaries andfavoured by subsequent writers, he owed much to Chopin, whose delicacy ofnuance and harmonic innovations he continued. La terrasse des audiences auclair de lune is taken from the second book of piano Preludes,completed in 1912, and was suggested by an account of the great Indian durbarof that year.
Erik Satie occupies a curious position inFrench music at the turn of the century. The son of a French ship-broker fatherand a Scottish mother, he exercised a considerable influence over a number ofyoung composers, perhaps through his very eccentricity.
His original cast of mind was exemplifiedin his creation of a new religion, of which he was the sole adherent, althoughdemanding the support of some billions of acolytes for its rites. TheMetropolitan Art Church of Jesus the Conductor allowed Satie to issue decreesof excommunication against those of whom he disapproved, which eventuallyincluded le Tout-Paris. The beautifully evocative Gymnopedies of 1888derive their title from the ritual dances and exercises performed by naked boysin ancient Sparta and were inspired, according to the composer, by a reading ofFlaubert's Salammb??.
Jacques Offenbach, son of a synagoguecantor who had settled in Cologne, was a composer of a markedly different cast,enjoying in Paris a position comparable to that of Johann Strauss in Vienna.
Offenbach won his first considerable success as a composer of operetta duringthe year of the Paris Exhibition of 1855 and his popularity was to continue atleast until the 1867 Exhibition. His more substantial opera The Tales ofHoffmann was left unfinished at his death in 1880, but in a version byGuiraud has continued to hold a place in standard operatic repertoire. Theopera takes three stories by E.T.A. Hoffmann and turns these into amorousepisodes in the writer's own life. The Intermezzo, well known as aconcert excerpt, forms an entr'acte, while the even more famous Barcarole
assumes importance in the third act, set in Venice, appearing first as a duetfor Hoffmann's companion Nicklaus and the girl Giulietta.
Known to some as the French Mendelssohn,Camille Saint-Sa?½ns was a composer of extraordinary fertility and versatility.
Starting his career as an infant prodigy of astonishing powers of memory andmusicianship, he enjoyed considerable popularity at home and abroad, untilchanging fashions, in his old age, branded him as a reactionary, after a lifeduring which he had done much to encourage younger musicians, such as his pupilFaure. The Danse macabre, with its rattling skeletons, was written in1874 and constitutes a remarkable and characteristically witty re-creation ofthe Dance of Death.
Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra(Bratislava)
The Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra