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Joseph-Guy ROPARTZ (1864-1955)
La Chasse du Prince Arthur (1912) [12.38]
Quatre Odelettes for soprano and orchestra (Henri de Régnier) (1913) [16.23]
La Cloche des Morts (1887) [7.24]
Quatre Poèmes for baritone and orchestra (Heinrich Heine) (1899) [15.04]
Soir Sur Les Chaumes (1913) [14.34]
Cécile Perrin (sop)
Vincent Le Texier (bar)
Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg/Emmanuel Krivine
rec. Conservatoire Luxembourg, Oct 2002, DDD
Timpani 1C1073 [61.01]

Ropartz is a composer whose heritage is only gradually being unfolded before us. Recordings have trickled out over the years. But by now a search at or will throw up a largish number of discs. Timpaniís chamber music CD is amongst the best - outstandingly imaginative stuff in the same vein as the impressionist-romance of Cras and Foulds; their other orchestral anthology from Ropartz is very low key stuff. The EMI recording of the Third Symphony (now on líEsprit Francaise series) is also well worth getting. This latest Timpani disc introduces us to the solo vocal-orchestral Ropartz at much the same time as Cyprès are treating us to a generous selection of Joseph Jongenís songs with orchestra (CYP1635).

La Chasse du Prince Arthur glows in sombre autumnal hues rather than the garish colours of high summer. As an illustration listen, at 9.15, to the hooded tone of the French horns. The work strikes me as indebted to Debussy's La Mer (strikingly so at one point) but predominantly to his maître César Franck. This is the Franck of the desperately underrated Psyché and Le Chasseur Maudit. The present work may not be completely unknown to enthusiasts; it has for years circulated on the tape underground in a 1950s performance conducted by Pedro de Freitas Branco.

The Debussy connection also sings out from the Four Odelettes. Mlle Pérrin catches ideally the Delian warmth and languor of these songs which teeter on the edge of the solipsistic soliloquising of Pelléas et Mélisande. This rises in Chant si doucement to an ecstatic blaze and Perrin achieves some melting and softly sustained high notes in Je n'ai rien que trois feuille d'or. The cycle is not about dramatic scenas but poetic intensity. If you know and like Bantock's Sappho Songs (on Hyperion) then you need to get this disc. The Four Heine poems are bookended by an orchestral prelude and postlude. Wounded and mournful love is fully reflected in this wonderfully lugubrious cycle whose vocal part is underpinned with bell evocations and references to the Dies Irae. This is very much an inhabitant of the lichen-hung land of Rachmaninov's Isle of the Dead and Joseph Holbrooke's Ulalume. Vincent Le Texier's voice sounds stressed and strained. I can imagine more controlled performances but his feeling for mood is unerring.

Sur Les Chaumes is another late romantic tone poem but more pictorial-atmospheric than La Chasse. Les Chaumes are the upper summit pastures of the high hills of the Vosges. The piece was written, like La Chasse and the Odelettes, in the year before the Grim Reaper began the slaughter in the trenches. Warm viscous blood moves through the veins of this music which might remind you of Delius's Song of the High Hills or of D'Indy's Jour d'Été à la montagne. It has some cheeky jauntiness as well, as for example, in the cloud-hung woodwind quick march at 6.29. The clouds part and sun shines at 7.43 gradually igniting a densely glowing Debussian climax. The music subsides in satiated exhaustion into the hazy susurration of the strings - 'a drowsy numbness pains the senses'. The rocking-breathing motif is not so very far removed from the evocation of the murmuring sea miles in Gösta Nystroem's Sinfonia del Mare.

La Cloche des Morts is the second of three orchestral pieces on this disc. It is also the earliest piece. Ropartz evokes, in shaded colours, a funereal Breton cortège based, as was La Chasse, on the writings of Auguste Brizeux (1803-1858). The style is caught between Tchaikovsky and Elgar with a sizeable helping of Franck. The atmosphere is not the most dynamic. The emphasis is on the expansive sunset rather than the wave-battered coastline.

Full sung texts and translations are included in the booklet. The outstandingly detailed and well balanced notes are by the indefatigable Michel Fleury. The booklet includes an interview with conductor Emmanuel Krivine.

This CD satisfyingly closes loopholes in the Ropartz catalogue and does so in convinced and convincing style. I hanker now for the Fourth and Fifth Symphonies and can only hope that Timpani will not let us down.

Rob Barnett


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