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Pierre MAURICE (1868-1936)
La nuit tous les chats sont gris (All Cats Look the Same in the Dark): overture to the comic opera Op. 35 (1924) [04:51]
Pêcheur d’Islande (Icelandic fisherman): musical impressions after Pierre Loti, Op.8 (1895) [23:14]: 1. On the Icelandic sea; 2. The marriage procession; 3. Declaration of love; 4. The waiting on the coastline
Francesca da Rimini: symphonic poem after Dante, Op.6 (1899) [14:21]
Daphne, prelude for orchestra, Op. 2 (c.1894-97) ms ed. Adriano [03:15]
Perséphone : two movement suite for orchestra, Op.38 (1901) [27:12]
Fugue pour instruments à cordes (Fugue for string instruments), in B minor, Op.20 (1901) [05:00]
Moscow Symphony Orchestra/Adriano
Recorded at Mosfilm Studios, Moscow, January 2003. DDD
Six World Premier Recordings
STERLING CDS-1053-2 [78:17]

The opening work is the witty, light-hearted overture to Maurice’s comic opera La nuit tous les chats sont gris (All cats look the same in the dark). This is music of French farce (two husbands having to pay the price for falling for each other’s wives). There is not only droll material here but some little depth for the music also points up the underlying sadness of the situation. Use is made of the well-known French folksong, Au clair de la lune

Pierre Loti’s novel Madam Chrysanthème inspired the libretto of Puccini’s Madam Butterfly but he is mainly known for his Pêcheur d’Islande (1886) a tragic love story, filmed at least five times, and set in Brittany. Maurice’s musical impressions on this tragedy are most affecting and exquisitely beautiful. The opening movement, ‘On the Icelandic Sea’ depicts a ship gently rocking on a becalmed sea in rose-coloured sunset mists. The music moves forward through these doldrums in a long slow evocative crescendo as desperation mounts but underneath there is clearly a more human sub-context for the sweetly romantic music speaks of a mounting yearning. ‘The marriage procession’ has black stormy music greeting the couple as they emerge from church with a grotesque folksong arrangement taunting them – clearly this is a doomed union. In ‘Declaration of love’ the romantic music softly, tenderly, almost shyly unfolds (lovely expressive string writing here with the upper and lower strings in counterpoint) as the setting of glittering waves gently lapping the sea shore is revealed. The final movement ‘Waiting on the shoreline’ has the heroine looking out to sea waiting, wistfully, the return of her man but he is lost ‘amidst a noisy storm, his marriage with the sea was celebrated…’; all strongly portrayed in Maurice’s music. This marvellous work deserves to be far better known.

Although Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini remains pre-eminent for its sheer excitement and melodic beauty, there is no denying the evocative power and colour of Pierre Maurice’s composition. Pacing and atmosphere are in fact truer to the story and Maurice’s effects and sometimes quirky orchestrations often have the gritty, charred feeling of fire and brimstone appropriate to the nether regions. The tender, yearning music for the forbidden romance impresses too. As I listened, especially to the early pages I was struck by a resemblance to the style of Bernard Herrmann. This association was confirmed in Adriano’s notes.

Maurice’s captivating Daphné Prelude contrasts the delicacy of Daphné’s (daughter of the river god, Ladon) floating melody with the lusty bawdy music of the pursuing Apollo.

The most substantial work in this compilation is Maurice’s two-movement Perséphone. It allows the composer to present in the opening section some imaginative sylph-like dance music, almost impressionistic, for the garlanded Perséphone and her followers. This tranquil pastoral scenario is invaded by the arrival of Hades riding his black horse intent on abducting the hapless daughter of Demeter. Here darker, dramatic music in the style of Richard Strauss predominates. Part two opens with an evocation of Hell where Perséphone has been induced to wed Hades. The opening eerie, high-pitched string figures with low string ostinati evoking the desolation of the nether regions and Perséphone’s grief at not being able to see the light and sunshine again, reminded me again of Bernard Herrmann’s writing. Yielding to her and her mother, Demeter’s entreaties, Hades allows a six-month return to the kingdom of light consequently Nature celebrates a reawakening of spring. And so the passing of the seasons in and out of darkness is established. All this is conveyed in arresting music that vividly implies the conflict between light and darkness and the ultimate joyful victory of the season of regeneration. In the march section of the second movement I was reminded strongly of Max Steiner’s Charge of the Light Brigade score, in fact there is much in Maurice’s music that would appeal to fans of romantic music of Hollywood’s Golden Age.

Finally there is Maurice’s five-minute Fugue for String Orchestra. Classical in construction and style, it is nevertheless no arid academic exercise but a work with a direct appeal to the emotions.

Adriano is to be congratulated in unearthing more treasure-trove, an album of vividly evocative and compelling programme music that deserves to be much better known

Ian Lace

see also reviews by Michael Cookson and Rob Barnett


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