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Émile JAQUES-DALCROZE (1865-1950)
Tragédie d’amour (1906) [30:37]
Suite pastorale (extradite de La Veillée) (1900) [23:25]
Ouverture de “Sancho” (1897) [10:57]
Elena Moşuc (soprano)
Bratislava Symphony Orchestra/Adriano
rec. 2016/17, The Slovak Radio Bratislava Studio
STERLING CDS1116-2 [64:58]

Swiss musicologist, composer and conductor Adriano has devoted his recording career to setting down recordings of music by little known composers, sometimes with an emphasis on those with a strong Swiss background. This is the case here, where we have his third Sterling CD devoted to Émile Jaques-Dalcroze. The two earlier ones, reviewed here have no solo vocal content, whereas the principal work in this latest issue – Tragédie d’Amour – is an orchestral song-cycle, wherein each of the seven songs forms part of a continuous narrative.

Jacques-Dalcroze himself wrote the text for the Tragédie because he could find no other that satisfied his needs. The full text, translated by the conductor, is given in the booklet together with splendidly complete details of his life and the works recorded here. These notes are written by the President of The Jacques-Dalcroze Foundation, and so their authority is well-founded.

The words tell of a woman who has been separated from her lover, but is expecting his return, she awaits him with an open door, but gradually realizes that he is not coming. Then she finds his dead body, with a dagger in its heart. She swears vengeance on the murderer. She does this by tricking the murderer into believing that she loves him, thus luring him to visit her, where she awaits him, dagger in hand …

The poem is quite expressionist in its imagery and can easily be seen to belong to the Secessionist world of Fin de Siècle Vienna (Dalcroze was born and studied there). The overall effect of the music moves from an initial exaltation as the woman awaits her beloved, to a sense of unrest as he doesn’t appear and then a sort of resigned horror as she sees the body. Then her grief bursts forth, represented by an orchestral climax, abruptly terminated. The piece then moves to her subsequent actions, and there are times during the music when I can almost hear the Richard Strauss of Elektra (which came three or four years later) - I am thinking of the passage where Orest walks to his mother’s room to kill her, and then kills Aegisth. Jaques-Dalcroze does not achieve quite the same screwing up of pressure and horror that Strauss’s extraordinary orchestration and supremely intense vocal line manage to do, but in the corresponding section of Tragédie, he is very effective when he uses the lower regions of the orchestra to create a thudding ostinato and short repeated phrases on the cellos. In fact, his orchestration is highly imaginative throughout, and as a lover of the late romantic orchestra, I find this aspect of the score to be most satisfying.

The closing three sections of the piece gradually build up tension as her plan to seduce and then stab her lover’s murderer is revealed. There is an extraordinarily vivid section where she is dancing a waltz with her prey, in order to convince him of her affection. She describes her horror at having to do this. When her revenge is taken, the music and the vocal line become fractured and dissonant, and the orchestra rises to a powerful climax accompanying a cry from the soprano. Dalcroze then uses the orchestra alone to finish the piece.

Adriano secures committed, focused playing from the orchestra, who are placed in a warm yet clear acoustic giving a natural recorded sound. The soprano, Elena Moşuc is presented slightly forward of the orchestra and gives a powerful interpretation of the words. I am not a French speaker, but I believe her diction to be good. However, she employs considerable vibrato in the process, and this will bother some listeners more than others. I must say that her voice is not shrill or squally, and the more I listened to the piece, the less her vibrato bothered me.

It is to be regretted that this powerful work is not better known. Swiss music is not so full of masterpieces that a work such as this should remain sidelined and the situation is not helped by the fact that the work only exists in an unedited manuscript, which Adriano had to edit it himself to produce usable parts for the orchestra and soprano.

The remaining works on the disc predate Tragédie by six to nine years and inhabit a totally different sound world, being far more conventional in both orchestration and melodic turn of phrase. The longest, Suite Pastorale, consists of orchestral extracts from the oratorio The Vigil. At this stage of his career, Jaques-Dalcroze exhibited a pleasing melodic facility, but there is little to distinguish this work, or the Overture to the opera Sancho, which follows, from many late 19th century orchestral pieces. They are pleasant to listen to, and are sympathetically performed, but rather pale by comparison with Tragédie.

Jim Westhead

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