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Joseph-Guy ROPARTZ (1864-1955)
Symphony No. 1 Sur un choral Breton (1895) [41:27]
Symphony No. 4 (1910) [29:36]
Orchestra Symphonique et Lyrique de Nancy/Sebastian Lang-Lessing
rec. Nancy, Salle Poirel, France. Sept 2004. DDD
World premiere recordings
TIMPANI 1C1093 [71:03]
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For many years the sole catalogue representation of Ropartz’s six symphonies was the 1986 Pathé-Marconi recording of the Third in E major. This work dates from 1906. The recording on HMV (LP: EL270348; cassette: EL270348-4; CD: CDM7646892) was made by Françoise Pollet (sop), Nathalie Stutzmann (alto), Thierry Dran (ten) and Frédéric Vassar (bass) with Michel Plasson conducting the Toulouse Capitol Orchestra and Orféon Donostiarra.

With Ravel and Debussy as the French composers of the early twentieth century the record-buying and concert-going public tend not to think first about France as a source of symphonies. Of course there are exceptions in Dukas, Magnard, Chausson and d'Indy. Scratch the surface further and many more examples exist: Milhaud wrote twelve. Ropartz wrote six. There are other examples by Jolivet, Charpentier (Jacques), Messiaen, Dutilleux, Koechlin, Schmitt, Landowski, Sauguet and Vierne.

Associate of poor Magnard, and pupil of Franck and Massenet, Ropartz was long-lived and prolific. As director of the Conservatoire at Nancy for twenty-five years he introduced many international works there for the first time. He followed this with ten equally stimulating years at Strasbourg.

After years of neglect, Radio France in 2004 broadcast a complete cycle of the Ropartz symphonies. In Nancy on 22 and 24 September 2004 the symphonies 1 and 4 were given and 5 and 6 followed on 2 and 3 October. These were given at the Salle Poirel by the same artists as here.

The First Symphony was written when he was a young man of 31. It is an ambitious and serious symphony heavy with the redolence of Franck. The music bears an uncanny resemblance at times to the dark romance of Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony and Isle of the Dead. Another echo is with Brahms’ First Symphony in its moments of suffocating catastrophe. Very much a gothic symphony there are also linkages with early Miaskovsky and with Tchaikovsky’s Manfred (9:04, I) and Pathetique (start of III). Especially impressive on first and later hearings are the fast chanting fortissimo French Horns at 14:40 in the first movement. Contrast this with the more relaxed feeling of second movement. The dark clouds part for the jocular and romping good spirits of 3:40 I II and the danse villageoise spirit of the introduction to the finale (also at 7:10). It is not long however before the spectral guest momentarily darkens the proceedings at 3:50. There are some oceanic intimations also (6:12) - pre-echoing La Mer. This is still fairly romantic and dense by comparison with the light and air he was to let into scores such as the Prélude, Marine et Chansons of 1928.

From the outset the Timpani recording proclaims a big hall acoustic with a grand spatial signature. This is even more evident in the ample, broad and sunny seascape of the Fourth Symphony - especially in the sumptuous pre-Hollywood melos of the Allegro Moderato. The cor anglais against slowly shifting that opens the second movement prefigures various film noir scores. This contrasts with the rompingly jovial second subject at 3:10. Then over the warmly lapping susurration of the strings at 9:03 strands of woodwind melody provide a benediction. The finale returns us to the tortured romantic riptide of the first movement but a triumphant growled and thundered out emphasis. The wonderful yelping horns at 4.02 call out in brazen heroics. However this symphony is not destined to end in vaulting climaxes but instead a valedictory Delian heat-haze.

I have compared this version of the Fourth Symphony with an ancient off-air tape of a broadcast made by Charles Bruck with the Strasbourg Orchestra. Bruck does give the work more bite and attack but Lang-Lessing has a better handle on the work’s idyllic side and frankly his sense of expansive drama is strong enough to convince.

Timpani will release the second volume of the symphonies (numbers 2 and 5) in March 2006. They record the Symphony No.2 in December 2005. No. 5 has been in the can for at least a year. The Third Symphony will be recorded in July 2006 to be released in Autumn 2006 together with the Ropartz "Petite Symphonie".

The Fifth Symphony is another fine late-romantic work broadcast on Radio France in the 1950s in a version conducted by Jacques Pernoo with the ORTF orchestra. More recently Leonard Slatkin has tackled the work with the Orchestra National de France on 18 January 2001 at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. We should not forget Slatkin whose adventurous way with repertoire also included a rare foray into Florent Schmitt’s Second Symphony during his time in Paris.

All of the planetary signs are in conjunction for this CD. It is a grand success bringing out into the light two fine romantic symphonies that will appeal to those who enjoy their Delius, Louis Glass, Rachmaninov and Korngold. This is a major addition to the catalogue. Get it soon and if this is anything to go by snap up the next volume when issued.


Rob Barnett


Timpani - opera Le Pays
Timpani chamber music incl. String Quartet No. 4
Arion solo piano music
Timpani - La Chasse and various song cycles
Timpani - Petite Symphonie and other orchestral
Marco Polo - Masses and Motets
Marco Polo/Naxos
Le Miracle and other choral-orchestral



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