My first encounter with the Ropartz was courtesy
of the Melos Ensemble's collection of French chamber music.
This included the Prélude, Marine et Chansons.
I am not sure whether that elderly EMI recording is still available.
In any event, so far as this ensemble piece is concerned, this
disc is not a world premiere although I would be pretty sure
that this is its first time on CD.
Ropartz has benefited from some interest in
his music. CDs have dribbled out onto the market from various
companies - usually one disc at a time. EMI 's CD of the choral
third is still available on their French midprice label. I know
symphonies numbers 4 and 5 from off-air recordings and can commend
them for their salty and seaweed-strewn Franckian musculature.
I have never heard the first two symphonies.
Ropartz's parents and forebears were of old
Breton stock and he was brought up within the sea-stricken granite
peninsula so haunted by dolmens and legends. After studies in
Rennes, Vannes and Angers he studied in Paris with Massenet
and Franck. Two conservatoires were directed by him: Nancy and
Strasbourg. At retirement he returned to his native Brittany
- the land that had bred so many of his works. Some worthy of
mention are La Chasse du Prince Arthus, Les Landes,
Scènes Bretonnes, A Marie Endormie, Soir
sur les chaumes, the opera, Le Pays (Canteloube wrote
one with the same title), incidental music to Pierre Lôti's
Pêcheur d'Islande, and a Requiem.
The Trio is in four movements - a work Franckian
in feel the first movement of which is troubled as well it might
given the slaughter of those days. The second seems to recall
happier times with its lively pizzicato topped note-cell. The
time-suspensive Lent shadows the slow movement of John
Foulds' Cello Sonata (interestingly, several of Foulds' works
of the 1920s and 1930s were published in Paris). The austerity
often credited to Ropartz's music holds him back from ecstasy
but a relaxation into emotional excitement is certainly evident
in the subdued joys of the final Animé touching
on areas explored in the idylls of the Delius violin concerto
and cello sonata.
A decade passes and Prélude, Marine
et Chansons, cleared of romantic afflatus, speaks in a language
lean and clean. It is extremely melodic but not especially impressionistic.
The forces of flute, violin, viola, cello and harp would make
this a good companion to Bax's Nonet, Threnody and Octet although
the lines are sparer. Miniature bird-calls touch in some rich
themes of medieval minstrelsy. The writing lets in the airy
radiance and warmth of a Breton coastline in high summer and
combines it with an aggressive stimulant which also powers Bax's
ensemble works and the Piano Quintet of 1915.
There are six string quartets. The Fourth does
not hold a candle to the transparency of the Prélude,
Marine et Chansons. It impresses through a reserve apparent
even in the two opening allegros but which continues into the
chaste multiple dialogues of the Quasi lento which actually
approaches the Marine of six years prior. The wild bouleversé
tumble of melody in John Foulds' contemporaneous Quartetto
Intimo also bursts in profusion from the final Allegro.
More, please. I want to hear the symphonies
but while I am waiting let's have the other five quartets, two
cello sonatas, string trio and the three violin sonatas.
This is a deluxe production in a card slipcase
enclosing a full depth booklet. The notes (extremely helpful)
are in French, English and German. They are by Yves Ferraton.
A handsomely produced disc and one I commend very highly. Doubting
Thomases should sample any part of the 'triptych' work and the
finale or quasi lento of the quartet.