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Gabriel PIERNÉ (1863-1937)
Cydalise et le chevre-pied - ballet in three scenes (1915)
College Vocal de la Cathédrale de Metz
Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg
David Shallon (conductor)
Conservatoire, Luxembourg: 29 May-2 June 2000
TIMPANI 1C1059 [73.39]

 

Experience Classicsonline

In pointing out the continual resemblances to Daphnis and Chloe (composed in 1912, just three years before Pierné finished work on the three acts of Cydalise), I fall into the trap of the sage who remarked to Brahms on the close similarity between his tune for the last movement of his first symphony and that of Beethoven’s last. Quite rightly, Brahms retorted: ‘Any fool can see that!’ For this I crave your indulgence: it does at least give you some idea of what to expect. Further, just as the symphonies are of comparable quality with each other, so are these ballets; and just as Brahms’s work was essentially his own, so is Pierné’s. The booklet doesn’t record whether Pierné actually conducted Daphnis in his first years as director of the Concerts Colonne (a post he held 1910-34) but I wouldn’t be a bit surprised. Franck, Massenet and Saint-Saëns are quoted as influences here, but the strongest stylistic correspondence (rather than influence) strikes me as being with Szymanowski, especially in the hushed opening for the choir – very King Roger. Once the horn and flute enter however, this pastoral landscape is unmistakably French.

The mise-en-scène is a charming mishmash of archaic characters and settings with the overall character of a pastorale: nymphs, fauns, sultans and sultanas disporting themselves in the gardens of Versailles at some unspecified time. Our hero, Styrax, has a cheeky clarinet motif which proves ingeniously adaptable according to context, whether lovelorn, active or triumphant. But the further into the ballet you go, the more wonderful tunes there are sprinkled around. The climax of Act I’s dancing lesson settles with a bump into the a surging melody of which John Williams would be proud. Pierné, however, can afford to be profligate: we hear it, then again, developed to an exultant climax, then abandoned. No matter, there’s another just as luscious ten minutes later. Shallon opens up at these moments but he never lingers, and this seems all to the good.

Pierné’s orchestra is a large one (including saxophone), exotically used. The ballet within a ballet in Act 2 has a harpsichord tinkling away, normally a mock-Baroque device of some irritation to me, but it is redeemed and complemented by a light and witty orchestral accompaniment.

First recordings have a tendency to sound definitive but the playing here is so rhythmically tight, tempos are so apt and orchestral sound is so French (no matter of its Luxembourgeois origin) that its first prize at MIDEM seems well-deserved. You need be no particular fan of obscure repertoire to enjoy this: and if you do, I suggest going in search of a bargain twofer on Ultima of the Piano Quintet and a biblical cantata, Les Enfants à Bethléem. Each of these has the same capacity to delight a receptive ear as Cydalise, despite the claim of the set on Timpani to house Pierné’s ‘chef d’oeuvre’.

Peter Quantrill

 



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