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Max D’OLLONE (1875-1959)
Le Ménétrier for Violin and Orchestra [23’33]
Lamento for Orchestra [8’54]
Fantaisie for Piano and Orchestra [13’12]
Andante et Scherzo for Three Cellos [9’35]
Mark Kaplan, violin
François-Joël Thiollier, piano
Damián Martinez, Vincent Ellegiers, José Mor, Cellos
Barcelona Symphony Orchestra/Lawrence Foster
Recorded in Barcelona, October 2001 and July 2002
CLAVES CD 50-2301 [55’25]


Born in Besançon in 1875, Max d’Ollone is one of the peripheral figures of late-romantic French music. The small reputation he does have is based mainly on his eleven operas and numerous songs, five of his operas being premiered in the inter-war years. At the Paris Conservatory, d’Ollone was taught by Massenet and he won the Prix de Rome in 1897. d’Ollone eventually became a noted conductor and musicologist in addition to composer.

Quite often the relative obscurity of composers is linked to unassuming personal traits, and d’Ollone was one of the more unassuming composers of his period. As Jean-Denis Bredin of the French Academy stated, "He was totally indifferent to the fact of making or not making his mark". Of course, d’Ollone was the opposite of indifferent when it came to his intense love of music. He would talk about music for hours on end and offer help to all entrants into the field.

D’Ollone did not compose many orchestral works, and the three orchestral compositions on the Claves disc are world premiere recordings. They are relatively early d’Ollone pieces first performed during the period 1899 to 1910. In contrast, the Andante et Scherzo for Three Cellos was written later in d’Ollone’s life and first performed in public in 1931.

The orchestral works are not late-romantic in nature, possessing the qualities generally found in the music of the romantic period. Although derivative, they are attractive conveying memorable themes and sturdy architecture. However, thematic variety is not plentiful, and emotional depth is only sporadically presented.

The most rewarding work on the program is the three-movement Le Ménétrier (The Village Fiddler) that reminds me of the pastoral music of Ralph Vaughan Williams. This work has an extra-musical association written by the composer himself, in which he relates the tale of a village fiddler who enthralls the townspeople with the ancient melodies full of the history and culture of his homeland. Gypsies then pass through the village, and our fiddler becomes intoxicated with the unusual rhythms and feelings expressed in their music. He joins the gypsies but soon returns to his village to regain the feelings of security from his life-long home. However, his music no longer sounds the same as before, being imbued with the gypsy influence. Also, the village folk are not captivated by the change in musical styles and abandon the fiddler. He gives up his playing and becomes a laborer, enjoying the simple pleasures of life but continuing to feel beckoned by the gypsy music.

The first Movement of Le Ménétrier is likely the best orchestral music written by d’Ollone. It begins with a surging of the lower strings that gives way to the primary cyclic motif presented by the solo violin and aided by the oboe. It’s a gorgeous and poignant theme that becomes thoroughly uplifting when the full strings take over and ascend to the heavens [tr. 1 1.41]. Thereafter, the music is an enticing mix of gusto and tender refrains.

The second Movement of Le Ménétrier has Spanish rhythms replete with castanets to enhance the effect. The energetic dance rhythms begin immediately and are given a compelling urgency when the solo violin enters [tr. 2 1:04]. The third Movement recycles the themes presented earlier in the work, but d’Ollone seems content to merely give us a stale retreading of old ground. Throughout the work, the well-known violinist Mark Kaplan plays sweetly with appropriate angst when needed.

The Lamento for Orchestra is a rewarding funeral piece highlighted by shimmering strings that begin in a surreptitious manner that soon opens up to strong declarations of dramatic intent [tr. 4 3:28]. Unfortunately, there is not sufficient material to accommodate nine minutes of music.

The premiere of the Fantaisie for Piano and Orchestra took place at the Concerts Lamoureux in 1899 with a young Alfred Cortot at the piano. The work begins on a grand scale with a determination unusual for d’Ollone, but most of piece has a warmed-over Chopinesque feel to it. François-Joël Thiollier plays excellently but can’t overcome the limitations imposed by the composition.

The final work on the program, the Andante et Scherzo for Three Cellos, is from d’Ollone’s full maturity and does involve some harmonic invention not found in the orchestral works on the disc. It might remind listeners of the Metamorphosen by Richard Strauss, but the level of musical inspiration is at a much lower level.

In summary, this d’Ollone recording gets a mild recommendation and should appeal most to those who love the repertoire of the romantic era. The performances are excellent, and show d’Ollone’s music in its best light. Recorded sound is fine except that it possesses an opaque quality that doesn’t allow the music to fully bloom.

Don Satz



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