Théodore DUBOIS (1837-1924)
Violin Concerto (1897) [29:01]
Edouard LALO (1823-1892)
Symphonie espagnole Op.21 (1873) [33:07]
Frédéric Pélassy (violin)
Slovak State Philharmonic Košice/Zbynek Müller
rec. June 2010, Concert Hall of the House of Arts, Košice
BNL 112964 [62:01]
The novelty here is Théodore Dubois’s 1897 Violin Concerto, heard in what appears to be its first ever recording. Dubois (1837-1924) was professor and later director of the Paris Conservatoire, serving the institution for over three decades between 1871 and 1905, when he retired. He was also active as a church musician, and was organist at La Madeleine, 1877-1896. His Violin Concerto was dedicated to Henri Marteau (1874-1934), a scion of the French school who made a number of prized recordings. Together the violinist and composer introduced the concerto through a noisy premiere but subsequently a triumphant performance a week later.
Though it’s roughly contemporaneous with the concertos of Tchaikovsky and Sibelius, Dubois’s work harks back to more classical, explicitly French models. One can detect some academic influence from, say, Rode. It’s a very genial sounding work, with some cleverly orchestrated passages but it lacks a memorable tune and a level of consistency that has presumably added to its neglect. Some of the first movement passagework is prosaic and whilst this is true of far better known works, here it matters more because the idiom is quite backward-looking and lacks the lift of late-Romanticism. But this is also, to be fair to Dubois, part of his scheme, because the slow movement is not at all ‘laden’ or especially reflective. It is, on the contrary, surprisingly bright and cheerful, and taken at a fine lick by the performers. It’s lyrical without ever being distinctive, however – despite Dubois’s authentically excellent writing for winds. The burlesque-type finale soon becomes rather more conventional – what a pleasure had Dubois kept up the level of caprice throughout the whole movement – and there’s a truly powerful cadenza to draw the work to a close.
This worthwhile restoration is coupled with the Lalo Symphonie espagnole, whose profusion of great themes, gloriously expansive gestures and expressive arsenal rather shows up the later work - which is unfortunate. Frédéric Pélassy is an alumnus of such fiddlers as Menuhin, Bron and Végh and makes a nice, albeit smallish sound, and over-indulges one or two over-hushed pianissimi. He’s also rather one-dimensional tonally, and is very forward in the balance and has to contend with some shrieking high winds from the Slovak orchestra, though the cheery clarinet counterpoint in the Scherzando is well attended to. There’s little real sultriness however, nor any great depth in the slow movement. Overall this is a conscientious, not very graphic or gripping account, lacking sparkle.
A small point about the booklet; there are a few misprints but also those blow-ups from the internet that, full-page, lack all sharpness and are very fuzzy. I know myself how easily this can happen, but I still wince to see it. There also sound like one or two rough edits, including a bit of a clunker just before the final orchestral chords of the Lalo.
Jonathan Woolf
Conscientious, not very graphic or gripping, lacking sparkle.