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Paul CÉZANNE - Music of His Time
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
The Trojans at Carthage – Prelude [5:01]
San Diego Symphony Orchestra/Yoav Talmi
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
L’Arlésienne, Suite No. 2 – Pastorale [5:47]
Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra/Anthony Bramall
Emmanuel CHABRIER (1841-1894)
10 Pièces pittoresques: Mélancolie [2:09];
Improvisation [4:47]
Georges Rabol (piano)
Henri DUPARC (1848-1933)
Chanson triste [3:25]; Le Manoir de Rosemonde [2:37]; Elégie [3:07]
Paul Groves (tenor), Roger Vignoles (piano)
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Masques et Bergamasques, Op. 112: Gavotte [3:44]; Pastoral [4:22]
RTE Sinfonietta/John Georgiadis
Léon BOËLLMANN (1862-1897)
Piano Quartet in F minor, Op. 10: Finale: Allegro [7:50]
Ilona Prunyi (piano), Béla Bánfalvi (violin), János Fejérvári (viola), Károly Botvay (cello)
Erik SATIE (1866-1925)
Gymnopédie No. 1: Lent et douloureaux [2:41]
Klara Körmendi (piano)
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune [10:33]
Jan van Reeth (flute), BRT Philharmonic Orchestra/Alexander Rahbari
Louis VIERNE (1870-1937)
24 Pièces en style libre, Op. 31: Epitaphe [3:58]
Nocturnes: Nuages [7:34]
BRT Philharmonic Orchestra/Alexander Rahbari
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Miroirs: Noctuelles [4:18]; Oiseaux tristes [3:47]
François-Joël Thiollier (piano)
NAXOS 8.558179 [76:37]

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Naxos is building quite a catalogue of ‘educational’ CDs, and its ‘Art and Music’ series covers everything from the Medieval to Picasso. Cynics might see these compilations as yet another vehicle for Naxos to recycle their back catalogue, but these CDs have informative, well illustrated booklets which provide a springboard for discovery and further exploration.

Looking at one or two of the other issues, Naxos’s musical and artistic selections are appropriate, if possibly a little conservative. The Picasso/Stravinsky association is an obvious one, but one might hope the catalogue will be extended with some more modern subjects, or as a logical development even a new DVD series. With Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) acknowledged as being at the avant-garde for his time, a few of the selections on this disc might provide a more appropriate musical backdrop to works acceptable to the Paris Academy. This is, of course, one of the potential dilemmas for such a project. While musical and artistic development can be traced and compared through the years, the path of modernism in music seems often to be playing catch-up with that of art. Cézanne’s art was ‘discovered’ relatively late in terms of his own lifetime, and his influence on Picasso or Matisse point to music with a little more modernist zip than Chabrier or Bizet. The CD label does however point out that the series ‘presents the composers active during the lives of the leading painters and sculptors’, so with that point clear I suppose one shouldn’t grumble.

Hugh Griffiths’ essay on Cézanne’s life, times and musical contemporaries is as detailed and as informative as one could wish for in a production of this scale. Cézanne’s life is sketched out in a few hundred words, pointing out his awkwardly difficult but doggedly focused artistic personality and progress. There is a very useful chronology which takes us through Cézanne’s life year by year, documenting significant artistic or historical events at the time, but strangely leaving out much of his own artistic output. The music of the time is also set in context, and each composer or piece is, if possible, given legitimacy by having some connection with Cézanne’s art or evolution. We have the misunderstood and the rejected (Berlioz, Fauré), the neurotic (Duparc), the individualist loner (Satie), the landscape painter in music (Bizet), the art collector musician (Chabrier), and the revolutionary visionary (Debussy). The remaining names (Vierne, Boëllmann and Ravel) are shoehorned in somewhat, but in fact this CD, in its own terms, has a lively variety and attraction which goes well beyond the ‘music for the millions’ concept.

The musical programme has its own built-in historical associations, and as a result the extracting of single movements from larger pieces works reasonably well. There are of course differences in recording perspective, but each of the performances is good enough in its own right. Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune and Nuages are recorded in an unfortunately over-resonant swimming-pool acoustic which might work for a Disney movie, but does the orchestration no favours. The last of these is followed by Ravel’s Miroirs recorded as dry as a Scottish oatcake, so there is sometimes a little extra work for the listener in terms of acoustic acclimatisation.

In general, this issue and the series as a whole is something I applaud wholeheartedly. Having done my Art-History ‘A’ level - too many years ago to mention - I can say that this is the kind of thing which broadens ones academic perspectives and aids the memory when trying to place an artist and his work into some kind of context. The CD is a nice enough compilation for casual listening, if a trifle uneven for the critical ear. Fans of art will learn much about music, and fans of music will likewise find their eyes opened to some great art, so well done Naxos - absinthe all round!

Dominy Clements

see also Review by Christopher Howell





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