Benjamin GODARD (1849-1895)

Piano Concerto No.1 in A minor, Op.31 (1875) [29:17]
Introduction et Allegro pour piano et orchestre, Op.49 (1880) [12:37]
Symphonie Orientale pour orchestre, Op.84 (1884) [27:27]
Victor Sangiorgio (piano)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Martin Yates
rec. RSNO Centre, Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow, 13-14 January 2011

Yet more world premiere recordings from one of the most treasured labels on the classical scene – treasured certainly by those with a taste for exploration and an expectation of exalted artistic and production standards.

Benjamin Godard was famed for the Berceuse from his otherwise unknown opera Jocelyn (1888) in much the same way that Sinding was for his The Rustle of Spring. It is facile to write up - or off - these composers as one-shot ponies. That fine and dedicated pursuer of perles oubliées, Bhagwan Thadani, who has done dedicated and inspired work for the likes of Bortkiewicz and Arensky also championed the French composer Benjamin Godard. He home produced CDs of Godard's concertos and exotic-pictorial symphonies using piano and synthesised orchestra. Here Dutton snatches up the Olympic torch dropped by Thadani with a stylish and captivating collection.

First comes the 26 year old Godard's four movement Piano Concerto in A minor. It's sometimes stern-heroic and at other disconcertingly witty. The manner is tugged between Schumann, Litolff and Tchaikovsky. Saint-Saens is not a bad parallel either with the quality of the ideas only a hair’s-breadth below those at play in Saint-Saens’ Second Piano Concerto. The winsome scherzo is trippingly witty. The composer was only 31 when he delivered himself of the Introduction and Allegro possibly fashioned after the two similarly titled works by Schumann. Stylistically though they are closer to the Litolff concertos (review review) and especially the famous Scherzo once glitteringly advocated by Cherkassky and Katin. Maybe the ideas lean more into the wind of sentimentality but they are the stuff of which affection is built. The performances by all concerned, including the wonderful Sangiorgio, serve to underscore how attractive this music is. The Allegro segment from 1:23 uses a haughty Carmen-strutting idea but wearing a distinctly Slavonic sneer. Lastly we hear the 35 year old composer’s Symphonie Orientale. It's another pictorial work with something of Berlioz's exotica about it. The Orientale is one of five symphonies. Exotica also appears in Godard’s works for piano and orchestra such as Fantaisie Persane for piano and orchestra (1893). Most striking are the sprightly and hiccupping China perhaps with an eye on The Nutcracker. One can also make a connection with Dukas and La Péri; suddenly our frame of reference opens wide. Greece with its easy careless lyricism is sans souci and not very erotically charged. Then come the drifting balletic tendrils of Persia and the bombastic mameluke armies of Turkey - no Jingling Johnnies though. It’s more like Max Steiner than Korngold. This is a work along the lines established and pursued through Félicien David's Ode Symphonique - Le Désert (1844) (Capriccio), and ten years later, Reyer's Le Sélam (Phoenix Edition).

We already have Chloe Hanslip’s revivals of the two violin concertos on Naxos. After this more than promising start we can look forward, I hope, to the dramatic choral symphony La Tasse (1878), string quartets and violin sonatas and five other symphonies: No. 1, No.2 (1880), No. 3 Ballet (1882), No. 4 Gothique (1883) and No. 6 Légendaire (1886) though it may be a few years before revival of Jocelyn and the five other operas. Meantime Dutton have the market in these starry Godard revivals all to its own; done with style, need I add.

Rob Barnett

Dutton have the market in starry Godard revivals all to its own; done with style, need I add.