Emmanuel CHABRIER (1841-1894)
Orchestral Works
rec. 1936-1959, various locations
Full track list at end of review

This CD is attractive on several counts. Firstly, Chabrier's music is sheer pleasure as well as a profoundly important contribution to the development of French music. Secondly, this is an admirably varied collection of gems in good or excellent performances. Thirdly, three of these performances - España, Suite pastorale and Fête polonaise - are here recorded on CD for the first time.
Some of these may be familiar - irreplaceable classics such as Beecham's Gwendoline Overture, Marcelle Meyer's Pièces pittoresques and Bourrée fantasque, and Bernac with Poulenc in two contrasting songs. It has to be said that Paul Paray's Gwendoline is even more thrilling than Beecham's, but while the catalogue has a surprising number of alternatives to Meyer, she is hard to equal in her strong characterisation and sense of abandon. The Bernac/Poulenc collaboration is unique - what style, what feeling!
Schüchter's España at first seemed rather brisk for ideal clarity of articulation, but on checking I found Allegro con fuoco - dotted crotchet = 80. Even so, a slightly slower tempocan enable more rhythmic pointing. Lindenberg's Suite pastorale is delightfully characterful - the first and third movements affectionate, the others - especially the Scherzo-valse - splendidly earthy. It may not be the most sophisticated version available, but too much sophistication and polish would, I think, do Chabrier a disservice. As Rollo Myers writes in his biography Emmanuel Chabrier and his Circle, “... the important thing to remember about Chabrier is that he was first and foremost an 'Auvergnat' - a native of that highly individual province of France which is unlike any other.” This brings me to the Bourrée fantasque, an exuberant, astoundingly forward-looking piece with a main theme of stamping character. The original bourrée was common in the Auvergne. Biographer Joseph Desaymard finds in the work “macabre imagination and a ballet of Death, rustic and danced in wooden shoes, with here and there a touch of mysticism.” Marcelle Meyer is wonderfully robust and imaginative here, as well as in the three Pièces pittoresques. One might feel that it is a shame to be deprived of the other three. We have only seven, including the four orchestrations which form Suite pastorale, but the disc runs to a very generous 77 minutes, so we would have had to sacrifice other tracks to accommodate them.
The extracts from L'étoile,takenfroma historic and treasurable collection,are sung with marvellous joie de vivre, the Ode à la musique receives a passionate performance, and the other orchestral items (tracks 16 and 17) are conducted with terrific enthusiasm by Barbirolli - some tremendous contributions from the percussion - and Irving respectively.
As a Chabrier fan, I would not be without this disc, but I suggest that those with a limited knowledge of this sunniest of composers - especially those unfamiliar with such delights as L'étoile, the piano pieces or the songs - will have great fun exploring this well chosen vintage selection.
Finally, there are truly excellent notes and biographies by James Murray, as well as selected press comments on the original releases.
Philip Borg-Wheeler 

You will have great fun exploring this well chosen vintage selection.

See also review by John Sheppard
Full Track-List 
Gwendoline Overture (1885) [9:10] (a)
España (18183) [5:52] (b)
Je suis Lazuli (from L'étoile - 1877) [2:52] (c)
Moi, je n'ai pas une âme ingrate (from L'étoile) [1:42] (d)
L'île heureuse (1890) [2:56] (e)
Ballade des grands dindons (1890) [3:03] (f)
Suite pastorale (1888) [18:40] (g)
From 10 Pièces pittoresques (1881) (h)
Melancholie [2:25]
Tourbillon [1:26]
Mauresque [2:35]
Ode à la musique (1890) [8:33] (i)
Bourrée fantasque (1891) [5:42] (j)
Joyeuse marche (1888) [3:55] (k)
Le roi malgré lui - Fête polonaise (1887) [7:12] (l)
(a) Orchestre Nationale de la Rediffusion Francaise/Sir Thomas Beecham - Salle Wagram, Paris 9 November 1957
(b) Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonic Orchestra/Wilhelm Schüchter - Bielefeld, 25 November 1954
(c) Fanély Revoil, Orchestre de L'Opéra Comique, Paris, Roger Désormière - Studio Albert, Paris, February and June 1943
(d) Fanély Revoil, Lucie Thelin (other details as in c)
(e) Pierre Bernac (baritone), Francis Poulenc (piano) - Studio Albert, 2 November 1936
(f) - as in (e) - 7 July 1936
(g) L'Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire, Paris, Edouard Lindenberg - Maison de la Mutualité, Paris, 8 June 1953
(h) Marcelle Meyer (piano) - Salle Adyar, Paris, 28 April - 2 May 1955
(i) Janine Micheau (soprano), Elisabeth Brasseur Chorale, Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire, Jean Fournet - Maison de la Mutualite, 16 June 1952
(j) - all details as in (h)
(k) Hallé Orchestra, Sir John Barbirolli - Free Trade Hall, Manchester, 11 August 1957
(l) Sinfonia of London, Robert Irving - venue unknown, 1959
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