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Gabriel PIERNÉ (1863-1937)
Orchestral Works - Volume 2
Paysages franciscains, op. 43 (1919) [18:41]
Les Cathédrales (1915) [9:41]
Scherzo-Caprice, op. 25 (1890) [8:00]
Poème symphonique, op. 37 (1901) [12:52]
Fantaisie-Ballet, Op. 6 (1886) [11:24]
Nocturne en forme de valse, op. 40 No. 2 (1903) [7:33]
Étude de concert, Op. 13 (1887) [3:53]
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano)
BBC Philharmonic/Juanjo Mena
rec. 2014, MediaCityUK, Salford
CHANDOS CHAN10871 [72:58]

The orchestral output of Gabriel Pierné shows a very clear evolution from the glittering Romanticism of Saint-Saëns to the impressionism of Ravel and Debussy. Paysages franciscains, the latest work on the disc, fits squarely into the latter category. It was inspired by the writings of nineteenth century Danish poet Johannes Jørgensen. The second movement, with significant parts for harp and flute, could well have been written by Debussy. The third and longest movement, is quite glorious, with surprising echoes of Vaughan Williams’ London Symphony.

Les Cathédrales, the other purely orchestral work, depicts the Great War battlefields, and consequently inhabits a very different sound-world to all the other works on the disc. Its mood is mostly sombre, though there is one passage in the middle where a noble string melody begins to swell up, joined by martial side-drums and brass. I feel that it is a poor choice to have the noise and glitter of the Scherzo-Caprice to come next, as it totally disrupts the mood. The more dramatic and dark Poème would have been a far better option.

Volume 34 of the Hyperion Romantic Piano Concerto series was dedicated to the four concertante works by Pierné (review). Chandos and Bavouzet have already given us the concerto (CHAN10633 – review). The three works are quite contrasting. The Scherzo-Caprice, as mentioned above, is playful and showy, the Fantaisie-Ballet a series of dance-like episodes, perhaps explaining the title, and the Poème symphonique the most serious and impressive of the three. The latter has little of the lightness and elegance normally associated with French works of this era, instead using Germanic Romantic models.

If you already have the Coombs/Hyperion set, you may hesitate to add second versions of what are interesting but not essential works. However, Bavouzet makes a much better case for them than Coombs, imparting more character. For example, in the solo part that opens the Fantaisie, I found Coombs to be too reserved, almost strait-laced.

This brings us to the last two works, and I hope you’ll pardon me if I become a little pedantic. I’m all for well-filled discs, but if you are going to call a recording “Orchestral Works”, then you have rather nailed your colours to the mast, and it seems perverse to include works that are for solo piano, when other orchestral works exist. Why not include the brief Serenade for strings, for example? It’s not as though 73 minutes constitutes a completely full CD. It would have been better to omit the title; after all “Volume 1”, which ironically is all orchestral, is not so named. Here endeth the rant; what about these two works? They are very much as one would expect from their titles: the Nocturne is dreamy, but with the underlying waltz rhythm, the Etude all glitter and show. Did we need their eleven minutes as appendix? No.

Production values are the usual high Chandos standards, and as I have already indicated, Bavouzet puts as good a case for the concertante works as possible. He has demonstrated his significant talents across a remarkable range of eras and styles – from Haydn to Bartók – and here on home ground, he doesn’t put a foot wrong.

I hope the use of the “Volume” label, contradictory as it is, indicates that a third disc is in the pipeline, because this is very fine music. I prefer the later impressionist works, but there is no doubting the enjoyment factor of the others.

David Barker



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