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Renoir: Music of His Time
Jacques OFFENBACH (1819-1880) Overture to La Belle Hélène (1864) [5:09]
Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra/Richard Hayman.
From Naxos 8.550473
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893) Petite Symphonie: Movement 1: Adagio – Allegretto (1885) [5:33]
Marc Grauwels (flute)
Orchestre de Chambre de Waterloo/Ulysse Waterlot.
From Naxos 8.555954
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924) Cantique de Jean Racine (1865) [6:25]
Schola Cantorum of Oxford, Colm Carey (organ)/Jeremy Summerly.
From Naxos 8.550765
Ernest CHAUSSON (1855-1899) Symphony in B flat, Opus 20: Movement 1 (1890) [12:38]
Orchestre Symphonique et Lyrique de Nancy/Jérôme Kaltenbach.
From Naxos 8.5.53652
Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
Préludes Book 1 (1910):
Voiles [3:19] Les Collines d’Anacapri [2:58]
La Fille aux cheveux de lin [2:13]
Francois-Joël Thiollier (piano).
From Naxos 8.553293
Danse Profane (1904) [5:15]
Ellen Sejersted Bødtker (harp), Vertavo Quartet, Sjur Bjærke (double bass).
From 8.555328
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Ma Mère l’oye (‘Mother Goose’) (1910):
Les entretiens de la belle et de la bête (‘The conversations of beauty and the beast’) [4:12]
Le jardin féerique (’The fairy garden’) [3:52]
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Kenneth Jean.
From Naxos 8.550173
(1865-1935) Prélude élégiaque (1909) [4:30] Chantal Stigliani (piano). From Naxos 8.555328
Jacques IBERT (1890-1962) Scherzetto for solo harp (1917) [3:28] Ellen Sejersted Bødtker (harp). From Naxos 8.555328
Philippe GAUBERT (1879-1941)
Divertissement grec (1908) [4:05]
Marc Grauwels (flute)
Orchestre de Chambre de Waterloo/Ulysse Waterlot.
From Naxos 8.555954
Digital recordings: dates and locations not given.
NAXOS 8.558176 [64:38]

Though this is not a CD for the serious collector – and doesn’t pretend to be – it is a pleasant sampler of French music between 1864 (the earliest piece)  and 1917 (the last piece), i.e. between the year when Renoir was 23 and the year when he was 76 (two years before his death).

All of this music has connections with Renoir, then, if only through mere contemporaneity. Some of it, at least, has closer connections. Hugh Griffith’s generally rewarding and sensible essay in the booklet points out Renoir sometimes went to the theatre in the company of Offenbach (so, fair enough, we have an overture by Offenbach). As a young man Renoir had a good singing voice; he was active in the choir of S. Eustache in Paris at a time when, as Griffith points out, Charles Gounod was the director of music – and here is the first movement of the Petite Symphonie (composed, of course, long afterwards). One of Renoir’s paintings, reproduced in the booklet, is of Yvonne and Christine Lerolle au piano; they were the daughters of Henri Lerolle, a famous art collector of the day. Renoir sometimes attended musical soirées organised by Lerolle – and in the 1890s Debussy sometimes played the piano at those soirées. So, again, there is an aptness in the inclusion here of four short compositions by Debussy.
One other important musical association of Renoir’s is not mentioned in the booklet or represented on the CD – in a context such as this it is surely worthy of mention (at least) that Renoir actually painted a portrait of Richard Wagner, which is now in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. Nor does Griffith’s essay choose to explore the affinities (real or imagined) between impressionist painting and some of the French music of this period. But that is perhaps implicitly criticise the CD for not doing things it didn’t try to do.
Its ambition is rather slighter and it carries it off. There are some particularly attractive performances. I took particular pleasure in the ‘Oxford’ performance of Fauré’s Cantique de Jean Racine; the Orchestre Symphonique et Lyrique de Nancy, under Jérôme Kaltenbach give a persuasive performance of the opening movement of the Chausson Symphony but it is, of course, frustrating that it is only the first movement that we hear. The pieces by Ibert and Gaubert receive perceptive performances, as does Dukas’ Prélude élégiaque, an attractive tribute to Haydn. Elsewhere, though nothing is actually bad, performances fall well short of the very highest standards – as in Francois-Joël Thiollier’s versions of the three pieces from Book I of Debussy’s Preludes, entirely adequate, but less than compelling.
Unlike some of the painters to whom Naxos have devoted CDs in their ‘Art and Music’ series, Renoir really did mix with musicians, and paint musical subjects (there is, for example, a lovely Woman Playing the Guitar in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lyons). So much so, that one can imagine a CD which actually made more of these connections.

  Glyn Pursglove



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