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Ernest FANELLI (1860-1917)
Symphonic Pictures: ‘The Romance of the Mummy(1883/86) [49:44]:-
I Thebes
1. In front of the Tahoser palace *
2. On the Nile
3. Triumphant return of the Pharaoh
II. Festivities at the Pharaoh’s Palace
1. In a room at the palace - Naked jugglers
2. Grotesque dance of the Egyptian jesters
3. Triumphant hymns - Orgy
Louis-Albert BOURGAULT-DUCOUDRAY (1840-1910)

Cambodian Rhapsody: Khnenh Preavossa ‘The Feast of Water’ (1882) [17:09]
1 Introduction - The tale
2 The Feast of Water
Lydia Drahosova, (Mezzo-Soprano) *
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Adriano
Recorded at the Slovak Radio Concert Hall, Bratislava, May 2000; January 2001. DDD
MARCO POLO 8.225234 [69:09]


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Since writing my original review of Fanelli’s Symphonic Pictures: The Romance of the Mummy in October 2002, I have had more time to listen to the recording. My view that Fanelli was a groundbreaking composer has been reinforced and I have no doubt that he was a major influence over a wide range of composers. He deserves to be heard! The avant-garde yet most accessible music of Ernest Fanelli, who is the featured composer on this disc, was a ‘blind date’ and a fascinating one at that. Prior to receiving the disc I was unaware of this composer and have been unable to trace any previous recordings of his works.

Born in Paris in 1860 of Italian parentage Fanelli studied at the Paris Conservatoire until an acute shortage of funds forced him to leave and support himself as a rank and file orchestral player. Although his teachers, for a time, included the luminaries Charles Alkan and Léo Delibes he was largely self-taught and had begun serious composition by his early twenties. In his role as an orchestral player I can just imagine a bitter Fanelli burning with resentment at having to play the music of composers that he considered inferior to his own.

A lucky break came in 1912 when the influential composer-conductor Gabriel Pierné fortuitously studied one of Fanelli’s 29 year old compositions. Pierné was amazed and declared that it, "contained all the principles and processes of modern music used by recognised masters of today." Pierné commented that at the time of Fanelli’s composition he himself had won a Prix de Rome, but in those days, "our art was entirely different from that of Fanelli …Wagner did not win recognition until a few years later and Debussy was not talked about seriously until 1890. Thus one man had marvellously foretold our whole epoch." Pierné hurriedly arranged an orchestral concert of ‘Thebes’ the first section of the Symphonic Pictures, to enthusiastic acclaim. Performances of other Fanelli compositions quickly followed but almost as swiftly as he became known he was forgotten and banished to obscurity. Even Pierné his champion lost interest and Fanelli became embittered and disillusioned.

Although he was to live until 1917 Fanelli sadly did not compose more music after 1894. In spite of his short composing career Fanelli certainly managed to rattle a few cages. It is not clear how he came to know the music but the self-titled ‘bad boy of music’ composer George Antheil is said to have described Fanelli as, "one of the greatest inventors and musical iconoclasts of our time."

Fanelli based and subtitled the Symphonic Pictures on Gaultier’s 1857 novel ‘The Romance of the Mummy’; a fashionable subject so typical of the ‘orientalism’ that was popular at that time. The work is programmed in two distinct sections, each comprising three movements which he called Tableaux or Pictures.

During the preparation for this recording of the Symphonic Pictures: The Romance of the Mummy, the conductor Adriano learned that the first section ‘Thebes’ had been Fanelli’s only published orchestral work. After much research the second section ‘Festivities in the Pharaohs Palace’ was discovered by Adriano ten years ago in the music library of Radio France. Although it is not stated in the booklet surely this must be the world premier recording of the Symphonic Pictures.

It has never been claimed that the Symphonic Pictures: ‘The Romance of the Mummy’ is great music but it is fascinating and essential listening. For example, there is arguably far less worthy music being performed at this year’s Promenade Concerts. More than for merely novelty value the music has great significance for French musical history. Maurice Ravel even suggested that Claude Debussy’s impressionism had been highly influenced by the 23 year old Fanelli.

Maestro Adriano discusses the various motifs and identifies two recurring themes that run through the music. He holds the opinion that this is, "perhaps the first example in French music history in which sound and instrumental colour become principal means of expression". In view of this it is fascinating that the Symphonic Pictures predate the evocative imagery of Debussy’s ‘La Mer’ and Ravel’s ‘Daphnis and Chloe' by 19 and 26 years respectively. In spite of Fanelli’s visionary credentials I also hear echoes of the sound-world of Balakirev and Tchaikovsky whose music Fanelli may have known from Paris concerts featuring the increasingly popular Russian music of the day. Stravinsky-like pounding rhythms are also evident too, particularly in the fifth Picture and Stravinsky was a composer whose music Fanelli could not have known.

This is visionary and most varied fare, albeit with a few rough edges here and there. It holds the interest from the first note to the last. Maestro Adriano’s assured and subtle control brings out the sonorities of this strongly atmospheric music. Fanelli’s wide range of tone colours and brilliant orchestration are expertly balanced by the fine playing from the Slovak RSO. Adriano displays a clear conviction for this music resisting the temptation of self-indulgence. He expertly communicates, through the orchestral playing, Fanelli’s individual language. On occasions the music seemed to require slightly swifter tempos and more incisive tuttis. Particularly successful is the pulsating yet atmospheric first Picture ‘In front of the Tahoser Palace’, with the mezzo-soprano soloist representing the plaintive vocalise of a slave-girl. Also impressive is the way Fanelli likes to feature individual instruments, in turn, over a backdrop of low sultry strings which can be best heard in the wonderful second Picture ‘On the Nile’; which I feel is the highlight of the disc.

There is so much invention to explore in the Symphonic Pictures. It would be remiss of me not to mention how frequently I was reminded of the Hollywood film music of Miklós Rózsa; particularly in the third and fifth Pictures. But how could that be? I must be mistaken? They were writing their great film scores some 70 years later!

I have written the following listening notes to accompany Fanelli’s: The Romance of the Mummy:

I. Thebes

1) In front of the Tahoser Palace

At times very reminiscent of the impressionism of Ravel and Debussy and particularly brings to mind Debussy’s Images. The section with the wordless mezzo-soprano resembles the atmosphere Debussy’s La Mer and the last of the three Nocturnes. It is hard to believe that Fanelli wrote this work several years before Debussy commenced the above scores.

2) On the Nile

Fanelli uses a quirky melody over the top of a longer more expansive theme, a device often used by Sibelius - but again, this was twenty years before the Finnish master’s great symphonies. This movement is again impressionist in feel but rather languid and everything is far too stagnant.

3) Triumphant Return of the Pharaoh

This is a triumphal procession. When the march starts moving there is a brief glimpse of Holst’s Saturn [2.30] which is an uncanny projection forward to 1916. There is also a hint of the refrain ’He shall reign forever and ever’ from Handel’s Hallelujah chorus, from the Messiah, which is probably unintentional as Mahler used exactly the same musical idea in the finale of this first symphony. The whole tableaux sounds like a score to an epic Hollywood movie and could easily accompany the Miklós Rózsa score to ‘Ben Hur’, yet the work dates from 1883 an amazing 70 years earlier.

II. Festivities in the Pharaoh’s Palace.

1) In a Room in the Palace - Naked Jugglers

This movement is extraordinarily modern-sounding in parts. The high tremolo strings [2:00] could be from a Benjamin Britten opera. According to the sleeve notes this movement depicts, ’massage with naked girl jugglers’, which should keep me in fantasies for a while!

2) Grotesque Dance of the Egyptian Jesters

Here Fanelli almost presents sketches for Stravinsky’s ‘Petrushka’. There are also snatches of what one could think influenced Holst, Janáček, Ravel and Bartók. But of course with the exception of Ravel they would never have heard of Fanelli, would they! The movement returns to Britten-like tremolos at [5:00]. The conclusion I have come to is that this is a late nineteenth century sound-world that was all around, with all the composers mentioned drawing inspiration from a fabulous mix of eastern, western, sacred and profane influences that were sweeping Europe at that time.

3) Triumphant Hymns - Orgy

This movement is not particularly French sounding. At times there is more of an English feel, in a cosmopolitan sense, as opposed to the ’pastoral’ sense. You can hear how Vaughan Williams and Holst were influenced by French abstract colours in their scores, even in swifter music such as this. In fact a sequence of falling phrases seems identical to a section from Holst’s ’Jupiter’ movement. I could even suggest in there a brief and rhythmic climax that could be from Bernstein’s ’West Side Story’. Yes, it’s true! Check it out at [10:22]. In the space of a one minute period between [9:15] to [10:30] I hear Honegger [9:15], Janáček [9:30], Holst [10:00] and Bernstein [10:22].

The second composer on this CD is Louis-Albert Bourgault-Ducoudray who unlike Fanelli had the advantage of a wealthy upbringing. Born in Nantes in1840, Bourgault-Ducoudray became a composer after graduating from music study at the Nantes Conservatoire, aged 19. After winning a Prix de Rome, in 1882 he developed an eclectic taste in music discovering the polyphony of Palestrina and developing a life-long interest in world folk song. Bourgault-Ducoudray was instrumental in introducing unfamiliar and often exotically themed music to French audiences including the Paris premier of Balakirev’s tone poem ‘Tamara’. His appointment as Professor of Music History at the Paris Conservatoire was the ideal position for him to use his vast musical knowledge.

Bourgault-Ducoudray was reasonably active as a composer, writing two operas and a considerable amount of chamber music, particularly for the piano, and numerous songs. His orchestral output like that of Fanelli is fairly small consisting mainly of a symphony and tone poems.

The two movement Cambodian Rhapsody was composed in 1882. He gave the work the subtitle Khnenh Preavossa ‘The Feast of Water’, which is also the name of the second movement that follows a substantial introduction and tale. The Rhapsody is said to contain melodies of French Indo-China, in keeping with the passion of the day for things exotic and oriental. The conductor Adriano considers the Rhapsody to be, "beautifully orchestrated…. but not as impressive and avant-garde as Fanelli’s."

The Cambodian Rhapsody is heavily laden with Wagnerian harmonies and Rimsky-Korsakovian orchestration, but clearly inferior in quality. This is colourful music yet rather unimaginative. If this is ‘oriental’ music give me the Gilbert and Sullivan Mikado any time!

Adriano directs an assured and convincing performance from his Slovak RSO who are now clearly well practised in playing rare and interesting repertoire. The well-crafted score is a credit to the composer but no matter how well the score is played by the enthusiastic conductor and his orchestra the truth is that Bourgault-Ducoudray was a very average composer who wrote unmemorable music.

The recording ambience varies between the two works, which were probably recorded on separate occasions. There is a slightly muddy sound quality in the lower registers and some blurred edges in the forte sections of Fanelli’s Symphonic Pictures. In Bourgault-Ducoudray’s Cambodian Rhapsody an over-resonant acoustic in the Slovak Radio Concert Hall is the only real drawback. However I feel that the recording is well worth buying for this fascinating and influential Fanelli work alone. Essential listening.

Translation of booklet titles into English by S.A. Cookson

Michael Cookson

 



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