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Gabriel PIERNÉ (1863–1937)
L’An Mil (1897) [35.05]
Les Cathédrales (Prelude) (1915) [6.43]
Paysages Franciscains (1918/20) [17.18]
Lionel Peintre (baritone)
Choeur Nicolas de Grigny
Orchestre National de Lorraine/Jacques Mercier
rec. Metz Arsenal, November 2006
TIMPANI 1C 1117 [61.02]


Gabriel Pierné is perhaps best known now for being the director of the Concerts Colonne from 1910 to 1934. But his long career included such varied roles as virtuoso pianist, organist at St. Clotilde in Paris in succession to César Franck, and composer.

As a composer Pierné was solidly academic, reflecting the teaching of his masters. His music encompasses Massenet’s melodic elegance and Franck’s vast, solid constructions. Rather surprisingly as a conductor his taste was far more eclectic and the Concerts Colonne were responsible for promoting a wide variety of composers including premieres of music by Stravinsky, Debussy, Ravel, Roussel, Milhaud, Ibert and Saint-Saëns.

L’An Mil (The Year 1000) was written in 1897 when the composer was on holiday in Brittany. It is a large-scale symphonic poem in three parts. The highly detailed programme is intended to evoke the terror of the Christian world at the end of the first millennium when the apocalypse was expected. It was premiered by Edouard Colonne and his orchestra and was a great success. It led Pierné into writing further religion-based works, despite the fact that he was not particularly devout.

It is the ghost of Franck that the work evokes. Not only does Pierné repeat Franck’s use of cyclical form, thus ensuring the work’s homogeneity, but he also reflects Franck’s symphonic sound-world. Though written for orchestra and chorus the piece is in no way a choral symphony, the chorus are simply one colour among many. The work’s three sections are entitled Miserere Mei, Fête des fous et de l’ane and Te Deum and Pierné uses a number of themes with Gregorian chant origins. Though a large-scale and rather lush work, the composer manages to introduce a strong feeling of the austerity of the period. Where the piece falls down, is in the middle section where the Feast of Fools is simply too tame, albeit beautifully orchestrated.

Jacques Mercier and the Orchestre National de Lorraine give a fine account of the work, responding well to the slightly old-fashioned orchestral style. The performance is suave and well fashioned; you could believe that the orchestra has been playing this music for years. The chorus does not sound exceptionally large, but they are apt to their task and a provide a nice focused tone though they often seem recessed.

In 1915, whilst Europe was in the midst of war, Sarah Bernhardt reopened her theatre in the Place du Chatelet in Paris to present Eugene Morand’s dramatic poem Les Cathédrales with incidental music by Pierné. Pierné had already collaborated with the actress on a number of theatrical works. This event was conceived as a great lament in the face of the horror of war, evoking the disfiguring of the great cathedrals and countryside of France. Pierne wrote eight musical pieces for the work, the longest by far being the prelude which was conceived for orchestra and chorus. Again the work evokes Franck and inhabits a similar world to L’An Mil.

The final work on the disc, Paysages Franciscains, was written in Brittany in 1918. It was inspired by a reading of Franciscan Pilgrimages by the Danish poet and writer Johannes Jorgensen, giving impressions of his visits to Assisi in the footsteps of St. Francis. The work was first performed at the Concerts Colonne in 1920 under the composer’s baton.

In these sketches of warm Italian landscapes Pierné has moved on from the influence of Franck to that of Debussy. Here we have some impressive Impressionist touches worthy of the recently deceased Debussy. It is unclear whether the work was a deliberate homage by Pierné or simply reflected his compositional development. The results show his mastery, without ever matching Debussy’s particular genius.

This is a well put together disc, with impressive performances of some of Pierné’s most significant orchestral works. While his writing is never less than interesting and sophisticated, he lacks the spark of genius possessed by those contemporaries whom he promoted. But this should not stop us enjoying this fascinating disc.

Robert Hugill



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