French Composers Conduct
Gustave CHARPENTIER (1860-1956)
Impressions d'Italie - suite pour orchestre (1892) [23:02]
Henri RABAUD (1873-1949)
Ballet Music from Marouf sauvetier du Caire (1914) [14:18]
La procession nocturne (1899) [15:16]
Philippe GAUBERT (1879-1941)
Les chants de la mer (1929) [15:22]
Voiles blanches et crépuscules [2:58]
Calme du soin [3:22]
Unidentified symphony orchestras conducted by the composer except last two Gaubert items conducted by Francis Cebron
rec. mid-1940s (Cebron); Charpentier and Rabaud (late 1920s); Gaubert (early 1930s). MONO. ADD.
VAI AUDIO VAIA 1075 [74:38]

Although this disc has been around since 1994 the recentish appearance of complementary discs makes a review timely. Dutton's superb French collection (CDBP9789) includes Henri Tomasi's Tam-Tam as well as the Gaubert Chants. The Alpha label issued a collection of French 78 transfers of the flute playing of Gaubert and his compositions (Alpha 801). The latter was further promoted by Timpani’s CD in spankingly modern sound of the Gaubert symphony and the first modern sound recording of the glorious Les chants de la mer - not to be missed (

In the present case VAI's engineer, Barton Wimble opts for the minimum in sprucing up. The faintly bristling underlay is left in place but major defects such as clicks, cracks and pops are neatly elided. It's closer to Pearl's sound than to a full synthesis CEDAR process. It works well.

Charpentier makes the best case for his now unfashionable Impressions d'Italie. Interesting to see a French composer evoking Italy rather than Spain. The music is postcard stuff but this does not stop it being affecting. A la fontaine is done with tremendously loving and atmospheric intelligence. It's a movement that sticks obstinately in the mind. As for A mules this must surely have been heard by Sibelius and have been subsumed and assimilated to make its mark on Pohjola's Daughter, Nightride and En Saga.

The recording of Rabaud's Marouf ballet music sounds slightly more constricted but is vivid and reports plenty of detail. The ballet music from Rabaud's opera may be known to you from the all-Rabaud LP conducted by Pierre Dervaux and issued by Pathe-Marconi in the early 1970s then reappearing on various EMI CDs. It's attractive imaginative writing. The Orient is suggested through skirling bazaar woodwind in a manner familiar from Holst's Beni Mora. The harp plays an imaginative role throughout. Lissom writing but not impressionistic - he does not adopt the manner of Ravel or Debussy although there is one momentary reference at 10:02 that recalled the garden noises from Ma Mère L'Oye. The sequence ends in zestful triumph. This music will certainly appeal to those who love their Rimsky Scheherazade and, closer to Charpentier's home, have discovered the wonderful Adolphe Biarent's Contes d'Orient (

La Procession Nocturne is another continuous single movement piece. This may be a night-time picture but it is bathed in warmth and tenderness. Its romantic yearning may remind you of Herrmann at his glowing and mysterious best. There's nothing jagged here. The music is suave and sculpted from caramel in its honeyed language. It's a sincere piece and the mood remains unbroken throughout. A shame that the track ended so quickly - a second or so of 'surface' would have held the moment more effectively.

Gaubert's lapping and surging impressionist Les Chants de la Mer is of a different and more subtle world than the Charpentier and Rabaud. It's a grandiloquent and moody marine picture - rapturously intense and laced with music which belongs to the worlds of Bax's Tintagel and Spring Fire, of Aubert's Tombeau de Chateaubriand, of Griffes' Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan and of Debussy's La Mer. You can hear the piece in splendid sound on Timpani. Meantime it's a treasure to be able to hear the composer conducting such a fine and vividly coloured work. There are a few Hollywood moments but short of the dazzle and glare of Respighi. The finale, evocatively entitled Là-bas, très loin, sur la mer, is perhaps recorded so close-up that the hazy mystique is compromised.

The more I hear of Gaubert the more I want to hear. In this case we have as bonuses two shortish Gaubert portraits conducted not by the composer but by Francis Cébron and recorded in the mid-1940s. Calme du soin is a warmly cloistered miniature for viola (or is it violin) and orchestra. It’s a somnolent contented sunset into slumber - almost Delian in its sustained singing. The romantic grandeur and delicately amorous fantasy Voiles blanches et crépuscules precedes it.

The music-making transcends vintage mono technology. As VAI say, 'La Gloire du disque français'. If you are at all attracted to this repertoire and its Gallic performing tradition from the first half of the last century then on no account miss this or indeed the superb Dutton disc.

Rob Barnett

Romantic grandeur and delicately amorous fantasy