> ROPARTZ Petite Symphonie etc 1C1043 [TH]: Classical Reviews- May 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Joseph Guy ROPARTZ (1864-1955)
Petite Symphonie (1943) [19.46]
Pastorales (1950) [17.44]
Sons de Cloches (1913) [11.26]
Sérénade Champêtre (1932) [9.13]
Divertimento (1947/8) [10.44]
Orchestre de Bretagne
Pascal Verrot
Recorded at Quartz, Brest, October, 1995 DDD
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Here we have another enterprising independent label exploring unfamiliar repertoire. This handsomely packaged Timpani release is devoted to the music of the Breton composer, Joseph Guy Ropartz, who may be known to more adventurous collectors for his Third Symphony, which dates from 1905, well before most of the music on this disc. That particular piece, like similar works from Roussel and Magnard, was enthusiastically taken up by a later generation of French musicians (notably Honegger), before disappearing in the post-war Modernist blitz.

A glance at Ropartz’s dates give us an idea how much upheaval in the arts he must have witnessed, and it is obvious when playing this disc, that his sympathies as a composer lay firmly in the past. He displayed extraordinary ability as a child (not just in music), and later became a favourite pupil of César Franck’s; at his death he left no fewer than 165 works in various genres, possibly the most famous of which is the opera Le Pays.

Every item on this release is, at the very least, a pleasant listen, in some cases hinting at more, but ultimately one is left with the impression that there is nothing of enough substance to make you want keep returning to it. The musical ideas are primarily of a light nature, with the chamber orchestra scoring giving an airy, transparent feel to the textures. What emerges is an overwhelming feeling of Gallic neo-classicism, the sort of music that many French composers (primarily Ravel) were obsessed with in the early years of the century. With titles like Divertimento, Pastorales and Petite Symphonie, one cannot expect music that plumbs the depths, but turn to almost any piece of a similar nature by Ravel or Poulenc, and the level of inspiration is of a different order.

All the music (apart from Sons de Cloches) comes from Ropartz’s last major compositional phase, and certainly displays a real French temperament, particularly in the use of woodwind. I was specially drawn to the delicate textures of the Pastorales, where Ropartz draws on native Breton folk elements, and imbues the melodic line with a modal feel that has both charm and personality. The ghost of Ravel is never far away, unfortunately, and the ear is constantly reminded of greater, more familiar music, in this case de Le Tombeau de Couperin. The final animato section of the Divertimento put me in mind of Poulenc (without the infectious, wicked humour), and at times during the otherwise perfectly engaging Sérénade Champêtre, I recalled shades of late Richard Strauss, particularly the Oboe Concerto.

Needless to say, the liner note author pleads a strong case for Ropartz, though his claim that ‘this great composer can figure as a leading "worthy" of twentieth-century music’ may be pushing it a little far. As I say, the music is harmless, pleasant and diverting, but resolutely devoid of real memorability. The recording is a bit dry for my taste, with the close balance giving a slightly ‘boxy’ feel, though the performances are excellent.

If you love French repertoire or just enjoy investigating generally, you may well get more out of this disc than I did. None of the music offends in the slightest, but I doubt if any of it will give you the feeling that you’ve made a real discovery.

Tony Haywood


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