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Joseph-Guy ROPARTZ (1864-1955)
Pêcheur d'Islande - incidental music - suite (1891) [22.33]
Rhapsodie for cello and orchestra (1928) [11.38]
Oedipe à Colonne - incidental music - suite (1914) [24.16]
Henri Demarquette (cello)
Orchestre de Bretagne/Kirill Karabits
rec. Rennes, June 2005. DDD
TIMPANI 1C1095 [56.29]
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Timpani have done Ropartz proud and there is still plenty more to come. The present disc had slipped into the background when the arrival of volume 2 of the symphonies and volume 1 of the string quartets reminded me that it needed to be tackled.

As Michel Fleury points out in his booklet notes, Ropartz at one time was undecided between the literary and musical careers. Even after his appointment to the Nancy Conservatoire his music often drew on literary subjects. Such is the case here.

The incidental music to Pêcheur d'Islande was written for a stage production of Pierre Lôti's book. While it is a pity that Timpani did not give us the complete music here is a suite of three substantial movements. The first La Mer d'Islande has a sinister lapping ostinato. There are no crashing waves or gale-lacerated cliff-tops this time. The mood lies somewhere between Rachmaninov's Isle of the Dead, Bax's Tintagel, Sibelius's En Saga (3:04) and Franck's Psyché. The villageoise style Les Danses smacks of dances on the village green echoing the rustic pleasures of Vaughan Williams' Hugh the Drover and of Howard Hanson's maypole dances in the opera Merry Mount. The music here is dedicated to Franck. Ropartz returned to Icelandic scenery for his opera Le Pays splendidly recorded by Timpani review.

The Rhapsodie for cello and orchestra proceeds: lento, allegro, vivo. There is no doubting Ropartz's warm late-romantic credentials. That first section is Delian and has the same instinctive natural effect as Cras's Legende, also for the same forces. The emotional temperature can be equated with that of the Bax and Moeran cello concertos - especially the Moeran. Had Ropartz written this work in the 1900s I am sure there would have been more lento than vivo. as it is this work is ebullient yet borne up by the mystical Celtic element. Indeed in the lento the mood reaches across the Manche to John Ireland's Forgotten Rite and Legend.

In 1914 Ropartz responded to a Théâatre Français commission for extensive music for a four act verse adaptation of Sophocles Oedipus at Colonnus. He obliged with nineteen separate pieces and made a suite including the Preludes to acts 1, 2 and 3. Between them comes The Entry of Theseus and The Lament. The first Prelude has a drooping sigh characteristic of much of Bernard Herrmann's film music (1:40). This is music of heavy melancholy tipping over into tragedy. The Entry of Theseus begins with stern antiphonal brass fanfares, solemn and grand, offset with a limping Borodin-style march (1:03) that just occasionally sounds like Walton. The trembling warmth of the second act prelude recalls Foulds’ April-England and even more so Frank Bridge's ecstatic Summer. The Lament is suitably blanched and desolate with a faintly Bachian edge. The final Prelude is a swashbuckling affair with valiant fanfares and even a momentary hint or two of Debussy's La Mer.

The outstandingly detailed and poetically informed notes are by the tireless Michel Fleury. As usual the translation by John Tyler Tuttle reads extremely well.

This disc again satisfyingly closes yet more loopholes in the Ropartz catalogue and does so with conviction.

Ropartz is showcased here as a writer of music of character both dreamy and decisive.

Rob Barnett


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