Frank MARTIN (1890 - 1974)
Le Conte de Cendrillon (1941)
Clémence Tilquin (soprano) - Cendrillon, Elder Sister; David Hernandez Anfruns (tenor) - Prince, Herald; Varduhi Khatchatryan (alto) - Stepmother, Fairy; Alexandra Hewson (soprano) - Young Sister
Orchestre de la Haute école de musique de Genève/Gábor Takács-Nagy
rec. Studio Ernest Ansermet, Geneva, 6-8 September 2010
CLAVES CD 50-1202 [68:07]
Frank Martin's discography has expanded over the last few years. The most prominent of these new releases was the first ever complete recording of his opera Der Sturm which was issued last year by Hyperion. However, some of his most significant works have yet to make their way onto disc; one such is Pseaumes de Genève (1958). In that neglected vein we are now introduced to Le Conte de Cendrillon (Das Märchen vom Aschenbrödel). This was staged in Basle in 1942 conducted by Paul Sacher. Although it is said to have had some success, it promptly disappeared and the present recording is thus most welcome to give the piece a new lease of life.
The ballet is based on the Grimm brothers' tale Aschenputtel which is quite close to Perrault's well-known tale, were it only in its Walt Disney incarnation (Cinderella). Martin, however, insists that his source was Grimm's tale which he finds quite different in spirit when compared to the gospel according to Perrault. In an introductory text written at about the time of the first performance and reprinted in A propos de … Commentaires de Frank Martin sur ses oeuvres edited by Maria Martin and published by A La Baconnière, Neuchâtel (1984), the composer remarks that Perrault's tale is meant in a French spirit for well-behaved and well-educated children. By contrast Grimm's tale is rather more raw at least in certain aspects. The most striking example of this is to be found in the third act. The prince is going through the country to find the dancer who has lost her slipper. The 'evil' sisters try to outdo Cendrillon, going as far as mutilating themselves to have their feet fitting into the slipper - Perrault's children would probably never have thought of doing so. They almost succeed but the birds sing that “there is blood in the slipper” and the prince thus understands that he might thus be cheated. He then decides to try the slipper on Aschenbrödel's foot and “kein Blut im Schuck! Der Schuck is nicht zu klein ...” (“no blood in the slipper! The slipper is not too small ...”). This brings the happy dénouement.
When listening to this delightful score, full of nice instrumental and orchestral touches as well as overflowing with beautiful tunes, one has difficulty in understanding why music such as this has been neglected for so long. This is vintage Frank Martin; this in spite of a superficial eclecticism used to reflect the inner conflict between bad and good. Aschenbrödel has a wonderful theme played by the oboe whereas the Stepmother whom the composer sees as an imposing and beautiful woman is embodied by the trombone. There are also a number of jazzy touches in various dance numbers and a good deal of humour, too. That unexpected presence was already to be heard in another underrated Martin score: the delightfully funny La Nique à Satan(1928/1932). Next to that, there is a lot of really fine music that clearly belongs to Martin's full maturity. It may be useful to remind ourselves that Le Vin Herbé, generally regarded as the first masterpiece of Martin's maturity, had just been completed when he embarked on Das Märchen vom Aschenbrödel. Other roughly contemporary works include the Ballade pour flûte, Ballade pour piano et orchestre and Ballade pour trombone.
As can be seen in the above details, the four vocal soloists assume a variety of roles when singing separately but also play the part of a small chorus commenting upon what happens on-stage.
I must also now stress the quality of the performance. This is an excellent reading by a student orchestra whose members obviously love the music and relish every bar. The conductor coaxes a convinced and deeply convincing reading that clearly deserves to be heard. It is to be hoped that Cinderella has been recalled after “decades of deep sleep” that it will be allowed a wider exposure. One cannot but be immensely grateful to all concerned for bringing this beautiful score back to life.
Staunch admirers of Frank Martin's never indifferent music will unashamedly rejoice at this fine release. I urge others who may still harbour doubts to give this work a try. They will not be disappointed with this strongly humane and beautifully crafted music.
An excellent première recording of one of Martin's unjustly neglected scores.
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