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Emmanuel CHABRIER (1841-1894)
Joyeuse marche (1888) [3:40]
Overture to Gwendoline (1885) [9:23]
Habanera (1885, orch. Chabrier, 1888) [4:11]
España (1883) [6:12]
Lamento (1874) [7:44]
Bourrée fantasque (1891, orch. Mottl, 1897) [6:44]
Suite pastorale (1880, orch. Chabrier, 1888) [19:5]
Three movements from L'Étoile (1877) [8:11]
Two movements from Le Roi malgré lui (1887) [12:28]
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Neeme Järvi
rec. 27-29 June 2012, Victoria Hall, Geneva
CHANDOS CHSA 5122 SACD [78:42]

Neeme Järvi's discography is very diverse and seemingly endless. He has been particularly successful - I would say - in many of the less familiar areas of the repertoire. One seldom knows whether it is the CD company or the conductor who has been the driving force behind the selected repertoire. In either case it is good to find Järvi recording music by Chabrier, whose orchestral output may well be a little greater than many people imagine. There are gems here, so I should add that Chabrier's orchestral music is also of higher quality than is generally acknowledged. Certainly most of it is imbued with sunshine and joie de vivre.
 
We start with the most substantial piece - the Suite pastorale. Järvi has a good instinct for this delightful music, the composer's own orchestration of four of his marvellous Dix Pièces pittoresques for piano. When Poulenc inserted a coin into a machine and first heard the opening Idylle (in its piano version) he was captivated. Many years later he wrote “Even today it makes me tremble with emotion to think of the resultant miracle; a whole universe of harmony suddenly opened up before me, and my music has never forgotten that first kiss.” For me also this wonderful piece never loses its innocent freshness and fascination. Järvi handles Idylle sensitively, with close attention to dynamics, but his tempo feelsjust a tiny bit hurried. Chabrier marks Allegretto crotchet = 120 for the piano original but Andantino, poco con moto for this orchestration. Sous bois (crotchet = 60 in the piano version, merely Andantino in the suite) also is slightly impatient and short on languor but, once one has become used to the tempo it clear that it is nicely handled. The two faster movements are fine, very well played and again show Järvi's excellent attention to dynamics and telling detail as well as his buoyancy of rhythm. Putting reservations aside, I believe he has an affinity with this music.
 
Järvi gives a magnificent performance of the Bourrée fantasque, another piece originally composed for piano and a masterpiece with so many harmonic anticipations of music to come, French or otherwise. As Roger Nichols writes in his informative and illuminating notes, “The bourrée was a dance especially popular in the Auvergne (Chabrier's native region), where it was generally performed in clogs.” Järvi captures this rugged stamping effect and observes all markings and nuances - the numerous accents and sforzandos especially - while relishing the eccentricity and changes of mood. This is among the finest recordings I have heard, though the even more robust Paul Paray and the Detroit Symphony should not be missed (review). Both here and in the splendid Joyeuse marche the warm but over-reverberant acoustic of Geneva's Victoria Hall rather blunts the sharp edge of Chabrier's rhythms. Nonetheless the march receives another fine performance, as does the more serious, Wagner-influenced Gwendoline Overture - though this isnot as swashbuckling as Beecham (EMI, BBC, Magdalen) or as thrilling as Paray.
 
The Habanera shows yet another different aspect of Chabrier and here Järvi is delightfully characterful and rhythmically buoyant. España is notable for some superb trombone playing - also evident in Gwendoline and theBourrée fantasque - but Järvi's reading is good rather than exceptional. Here his attention to accents sometimes sounds laboured rather than natural, giving the melodic line a bumpy ride. In Lamento, the earliest and least familiar item on the CD, Järvi compares rather unfavourably with Hervé Niquet (Naxos 8.554248) who finds more depth and passion and shows more belief in this neglected piece. The disc ends with operatic music of a very different kind fromGwendoline, and with these extracts we revisit the composer's more characteristic warm-heartedness and sense of fun. Among the greatest admirers of L'Étoile - and Chabrier's music in general - was Stravinsky, a man of exacting taste who incidentally was subtly influenced by Chabrier. Of the three L'Étoile extracts the overture is short on sparkle, while the Fête polonaise from Le Roi malgré lui (a comic opera greatly admired by Ravel) is spirited but a bit rushed. The final track, the Danse slave, shows Järvi at his most engaged.
 
This disc is very good in parts but generally a little too variable to deserve an outright welcome.
 
Philip Borg-Wheeler 

Previous review: Raymond J Walker



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