> Reveries - Oue [NH]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Erik SATIE (1866-1925) Gymnopédies No.1 and No.3 (arr. Debussy)
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918) Reverie; Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924) Pavane
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907) Solveig's Song (from 'Peer Gynt')
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912) The Last Sleep of the Virgin
Ermanno WOLF-FERRARI (1876-1948) Intermezzo (from 'The Jewels of the Madonna')
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893) Le Sommeil de Juliette (from 'Roméo et Juliette')
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937) Pavane for a Dead Princess
Pyotr TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893) Andante Cantabile
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957) The Swan of Tuonela
Minnesota Orchestra/Eije Oue, conductor
Recorded in Orchestra Hall, Minneapolis, MN, USA 1st and 2nd May 2002.

This disc, from the Californian audiophile imprint Reference Recordings, is without question an impressive listening experience. The combination of conductor Eiji Oue and the Minnesota Orchestra has now recorded several discs for the label yet, looking at the listing in the back of the CD booklet, this one has to go down, its excellence aside, as one of its least adventurous. A few tracks apart, it could otherwise easily be mistaken for one of the endless compilations for "relaxation" etc. that seem to be forever hitting the shelves.

The performances of the French works (especially Debussy, Satie, Fauré, Ravel) are all satisfyingly idiomatic, including Adam Kuenzel's lovely flute in the mysteriously English titled Afternoon of a Faun (the same idiosyncrasy arises with Ravel's "Dead Princess" yet not the Massenet and Gounod pieces!). I have to say that this listener at least was distinctly underwhelmed by the works that I was less familiar with, i.e. the Massenet, Gounod and Wolf-Ferrari. Massenet's Last Sleep of the Virgin pales completely beside John Tavener's much more recent "veneration" on the same subject matter and the others owe a great deal to their respective composer's operatic inspirations (melodramatic and ultimately lightweight to these ears).

Tchaikovsky is a much maligned composer in some circles but the Andante Cantabile included here (originally drawn from the first string quartet) confirms the genius at work (the aforementioned Tavener has publicly expressed his preference for Tchaikovsky over Mahler and I was reminded also of Louis Andriessen's recent comments, in a similar vein, that a great composer writes music that is about music not about himself). Tchaikovsky continually transcended his personal tragedies in his music and this is but one example. Which, of course, brings us on to Sibelius. If ever there was a composer who, Finlandia and maybe the Karelia Suite apart, is totally inappropriate for inclusion on this type of disc, then it is the Finnish master. The Swan of Tuonela is one of his earlier minor masterpieces and fairly unusual in highlighting the cor anglais but it is far more effective set among more likeminded works (either of Sibelius' own or those of kindred spirits) rather than in this present context.

This is probably a disc for audiophiles to cherish (and play at dinner parties?) and one that someone newly discovering classical music might gain a great deal from but for the classical aficionado there is precious little here that will truly illuminate or enlighten. The gushing booklet notes are rather over the top as well.

Neil Horner

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