France: A Musical Tour of Provence
1. Beaucaire (Gard)
2. Roman Aqueduct, Pont du Gard
4. Les Alpilles
5. Les Baux-de-Provence
7. Les Baux-de-Provence: Cemetery and Church of St Vincent
8. Les Baux-de-Provence: Ruins
Music by Debussy and Ravel. Performed by Kodály Quartet from Naxos CD 8.550156.
No recording dates or venues given
DVD Director: G Gachot
Cameraman: H T Aschwanden
Audio Format, DTS 5.1. Dolby Digital 5.1. PCM Stereo 2.0
Video Format: NTSC. Region 0. Colour. Aspect ratio 4:3
NAXOS DVD 2.110544 [52.54]
Recently the Director of some of these Musical Journeys complained to Musicweb International that neither he, nor the photographer were noted in the credits in the header. I pleaded guilty to my omission using the excuse that the information was not present in the accompanying leaflet or on the box outer. I was guilty because I turned the DVD off before the arrival of the printed credits at the end of the film; I now know where to find them. The Director concerned, Adriano, professed to be the progenitor of this extended series of releases having persuaded the management of Naxos as to the commercial possibilities. Well, now for my turn, and with no feeling of animosity, I take issue with the lack of clear objectives in these issues. Some are crowded with different views, artefacts, buildings and scenic views, or whatever, of the area covered. Others are sparse and with unnecessary repetition as is the case with this issue of a region of France rich in photographic possibilities.
The region of Provence extends both east and west of the Grande Rhone, a view of which is choppy with the winds of the Mistral as are the surrounding trees and cereal fields. The town of Beaucaire is the subject listed in the printed list (CH.1). Well the view from the river is so long distant as to require a telescope with zoom facilities. Believe me, a close look at the town, with its chateau (castle) would have been preferable to this, especially with the added view across the river to the bastide at Tarascon. The two fortified buildings faced each other when part of separate kingdoms in the Middle Ages. We might also have expected more views of the Roman remains than those of the magnificent Pont Du Gard aqueduct illustrated on the front of the box in a region rich in such structures (CH.2). Make the most of those pictures, as there are no more. Look particularly at the dimensions of the arches. Each one is different. The Romans knew how to build so as to avoid the catastrophe consequent on the effects on their architecture of earthquakes. Note also that you can no longer walk on the top tier.
The photography in these issues is often brilliant. As to the three visits to Les Baux, in this issue the photographer seems to have lost any cohesive script in his views and visits to the medieval town. How, a visit to the Alpilles, wonderful as their eroded rock formations are, could miss out the Roman Commemorative Arch outside the excavated town of Glanum, one of the best outside Italy, beggars belief. If the Pont Du Gard is to be the focus photo on the front then the source of the water should been included, particularly the outlet in Nimes which dates back to Roman times. It is an engineering miracle far ahead of its time.
The only good thing I can say about this issue is that French composers have been chosen with Debussy's String Quartet, Op. 10, from 1893, and Ravel's single string quartet of 1902 being well played. The L’Arlésienne suites by Bizet or an extract from Gounod’s Mireille, written in nearby St Remy, whose museum contains many artefacts found at Glanum, would have been more appropriate, but Naxos does not feature them in its catalogue.
Robert J Farr
A great opportunity missed to range over one of the most interesting regions of France. This issue is more about photography than about Provence.
Once a significant trading port, Beaucaire has declined in importance. It lies on the west bank of the Rhône, and the town is shown here only from a distance, over the water, with attention given rather to the characteristic vegetation of the district.
Music Debussy: String Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 10 – I. Animé et très décidé
The four movements of Debussy’s only string quartet, written in 1893 and dedicated to the Ysaÿe Quartet, are thematically related and typical of the musical language which he created. He planned a second quartet as one of six chamber works of patriotic intention, of which only half were completed in 1915. The first movement retains the general form of a classical first movement.
Roman Aqueduct, Pont du Gard
The great Roman aqueduct, the Pont du Gard, was built by the Roman general Agrippa in about 19 B.C. to bring water to Nîmes. It spans the valley of the Gard, and remains an impressive monument of Roman rule.
Music Debussy: String Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 10 – II. Assez vif et bien rythmé
The scherzo of Debussy’s quartet is dominated by the viola theme with which it opens.
The landscape of Provence offers a varied picture, with its abundance of flowers and trees that in their forms recall the work of French painters who worked in the region. The setting of the sun and the cloud patterns bring an element of drama to the scene.
Music Debussy: String Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 10 – III. Andantino doucement et bien rythmé
The slow movement of the quartet suggests the medieval or pre-Raphaelite world that Debussy was to create in his opera Pelléas et Mélisande some ten years later.
Les Alpilles is a relatively low-lying range of mountains, standing out from the flatter terrain of the Rhône valley. Strange rock formations have resulted from erosion, and lower fields are planted with olive and almond trees and with vines. The general scene is familiar from the work of Van Gogh.
Music Debussy: String Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 10 – IV. Très modéré
The last movement of Debussy’s quartet opens in contrapuntally angular fashion, proceeding to an allusive summary of what has passed.
Les Baux-de-Provence, set on a hill-top in Les Alpilles, boasts the remains of a feudal town, powerful in the 12th and 13th Centuries, but later losing dominance, to be laid waste in the 17th Century and today to become an attraction for tourists. Some of the old buildings have been restored, in one way or another, and there is a small 12th Century church.
Music Ravel: String Quartet in F – I. Allegro moderato. Très doux
Although his name is often linked with that of his older contemporary, Debussy, Maurice Ravel is a very different composer, his musical language derived in part from his maternal Basque heritage and the precision of thought imbibed from his engineer father. Ravel wrote his only string quartet in 1902, dedicating it to his teacher, Gabriel Fauré. The quartet opens with one of those characteristically nostalgic melodies, suggesting a yearning for an unattainable past, a mood of which Fauré was a master.
The landscape of Provence offers contrasts. Fields of olive-trees, newly planted vines and meadows full of flowers give way to the starker rock formations of Les Alpilles.
Music Ravel: String Quartet in F – II. Assez vif. Très rythmé
The scherzo of Ravel’s quartet, with its opening pizzicato echoing the plucked strings of Debussy’s scherzo, is a movement of rhythmic complexity, bringing reminiscences of the first movement. At its heart is a trio section that exploits the resources of the muted strings.
Les Baux-de-Provence: Cemetery and Church of St Vincent
The cemetery at Les Baux-de-Provence, overlooking the Val d’Enfer, is within the castle complex. Among notable people buried here are the Catalan artist Louis Jou, with the ashes of his friend, the violinist Alexander Schneider, and the writer André Suarès. The Church of St Vincent dates from the 12th Century. Its colourful stained glass windows by Max Ingrand were presented by Prince Rainier III of Monaco, a reminder that Les Baux was given to his family by Louis XIII, the title thereafter held by the direct male line.
Music Ravel: String Quartet in F – III. Très lent
The slow movement of Ravel’s quartet presents music of suggestive delicacy, evoking a mysterious past world.
Les Baux-de-Provence: Ruins
Over the centuries the once powerful court of the lords of Les Baux declined and in 1483 Louis XI had the fortifications torn down. It was in the 17th century, however, that the surviving castle was finally demolished, leaving the ruins to be seen today.
Music Ravel: String Quartet in F – IV. Vif et agité
The quartet ends with a movement of rhythmic asymmetry, still thematically related to what has gone before.