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Joseph-Guy ROPARTZ (1864-1955)
Symphony No. 2 (1900) [37:09]
Symphony No. 5 (1944) [29:25]
Orchestra Symphonique et Lyrique de Nancy/Sebastian Lang-Lessing
rec. Salle Poirel, Nancy, France, Dec 2005 (2); Sept 2005 (5). DDD
World premiere recordings
TIMPANI 1C1097 [71:03]
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For many years the sole catalogue representation of Ropartzís six symphonies was the 1986 Pathé-Marconi of the Third in E major (1906). The handsome recording on Pathé-Marconi (LP: EL270348; cassette: EL270348-4; CD: CDM7646892 LíEsprit Française series) was made by Françoise Pollet (sop), Nathalie Stutzmann (alto), Thierry Dran (ten) and Frédéric Vassar (bass) with Michel Plasson conducting the Toulouse Capitole Orchestra and Orféon Donostiarra.

Things have now changed with the appearance on the scene of the first CD in Timpani exciting intégrale of the Ropartz First and Fourth symphonies: review

Associate of the ill-fated and martyred Magnard, and pupil of Massenet and Franck, Ropartz was long-lived and prolific. As director of the Conservatoire at Nancy for twenty-five years he premiered many new non-French works. He followed this with ten equally stimulating years at Strasbourg.

The Second Symphony straddles the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In the same year is from the turn of the century, the year after Ravelís Pavane; the year of Debussyís Nocturnes and the year before Sibeliusís Second Symphony. It is in Ropartzís accustomed four movement format. The long first movement recalls Bruckner with excited yet quietly elysian writing for the strings rising to determined climactic four-square statements. It ends with a calming quiet passage. The Molto vivace is playful and broadly suggestive of the lightness of heart in Beethovenís Pastoral with some thoughtful reflections to provide contrast. The Adagio takes us back into Bruckner-Wagner territory; serene and sustained singing lines are the order of the day. These sometimes quasi-Mahlerian touches are juxtaposed with lissom writing for woodwind. Then comes a sanguine and businesslike Allegro molto with a chivalric mood recalling the earlier symphonies of Miaskovsky and Stanford. In an ecstatic aside we also get a theme worthy of Rachmaninov at 3:55 but with touches of the dancing optimism of Franckís symphony. This is the first time I have heard the work but the playing and interpretation here communicate with great vitality and freshness. It will be interesting to hear what Lang-Lessing makes of the Petite Symphonie of 1943 after a fairly ordinary earlier recording from Timpani.

The Fifth Symphony by Ropartz was written amid the Nazi Occupation during the composerís retirement to his native Breton village of Lanloup. Its first and second movements comprise a lively Allegro assai which launches with a real crash and an exuberant Presto romp. We then get a Ropartz hallmark Largo - a piece of really touching writing which, while holding onto its dignity, has a melancholy elegiac loveliness. This, the longest movement is carried by the strings but there are some notable noble statements from solo horn and woodwind. A brief (5:14) Allegro moderato has the clean euphoric classical lines of Moeranís Sinfonietta but with a Franckian-Breton accent. The epic-romantic Fourth with its crashing cinematic seascapes contrasts with the airy classical zest of the Fifth; both powerful works but differing in style and atmosphere. The ancient Jacques Pernoo conducted ORTF broadcast version had a more propulsively explosive approach especially in the first movement - it sounded positively Elgarian (In the South) in the first movement. Even so Lang-Lessing directs a vibrant performance that will not disappoint.

The Fifth Symphony was given its first performance at a UNESCO concert on 14 November 1946 alongside Honeggerís Third Symphony. The conductor was Charles Munch who has also presided over a festival of Ropartz works in Occupied France in 1943.

The recording quality in this case is truly excellent capitalising on the liveliness of the Salle Poirel acoustic without allowing its sonorous spaces to cloud the textures.

The various essays are in French and English - and, by the way, the English - in translation by John Tyler Tuttle - reads very well. The CD is housed in a stiff card-fold with the booklet slipped into a slit on the inside front cover. The CD is stem-mounted on a plastic case on the inside rear. The booklet and case and cover are all most tastefully designed. Everything is sympathetically done with a completely satisfying visual effect. The cover is from a hyper-naturalistic painting by Emile Friant - Les canaliers de la Meurthe.

The studied neglect of the symphonies had been relieved only by venerable broadcasts of the Fourth Symphony by Charles Bruck with the Strasbourg Orchestra and of the Fifth Symphony by Jacques Pernoo and the ORTF orchestra. More recently Leonard Slatkin revived the Fifth for French Radio 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 French foray into Florent Schmittís Second Symphony (if anyone has a tape or CDR of either of those Slatkin broadcasts would they please contact me). In the 1980s came the Pathé recording of the Third. After barren decades Radio France in 2004 broadcast a complete cycle of the Ropartz symphonies. In Nancy on 22 and 24 September 2004 symphonies 1 and 4 were given; 5 and 6 followed on 2 and 3 October 2004. These took place in Nancy at the Salle Poirel; the same venue and artists as here.

The Third Symphony will be recorded later in 2006 to be released in 2007 together with the Ropartz Petite Symphonie in the third and final volume in the series.

Two sturdy symphonies rescued from neglect and presented no-holds-barred: living viable works demonstrating Ropartzís musical command and tenacious mastery of the form and of the orchestra.

Rob Barnett


Symphonies 1 and 4
Timpani - opera Le Pays
Timpani chamber music incl. String Quartet No. 4
Timpani - La Chasse and various song cycles
Timpani - Petite Symphonie and other orchestral

Arion solo piano music

Marco Polo - Masses and Motets

Marco Polo/Naxos
Le Miracle and other choral-orchestral


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