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Émile JAQUES-DALCROZE (1865-1950)
Tragédie d’amour (1906) [30.37]
Suite pastorale from La Veillée (1900) [23.25]
Sancho, opera (1897): Overture [10.57]
Elena Moşuc (soprano), Bratislava Symphony Orchestra/Adriano
rec. 2016/17, Studio 1, Slovak Radio Bratislava
STERLING CDS1116-2 [64.58]

For the latter half of his long life Émile Jaques-Dalcroze devoted his talents to the promotion of his own system of eurythmics, abandoning his earlier orchestral compositions altogether. These remained comprehensively neglected until 2002, when the indefatigable Adriano conducted a CD with the Moscow Radio Orchestra featuring a number of otherwise unknown scores which were generally well received by those critics who took notice of the release, including three reviews on this site. Adriano followed this with a second instalment in 2004; and he now returns to the music with a further extract from Jaques-Dalcroze’s opera Sancho, some orchestral movements from his ‘secular oratorio’ La Veillée, and a complete performance of his song cycle Tragédie d’amour which seems here to be receiving its first hearing since its première in 1906.

The first of Adriano’s discs included some quarter-of-an-hour of ballet music from Sancho, which as its title implies is another in the positive plethora of musical treatments of Cervantes’s Don Quixote which emerged around the turn of the twentieth century by composers including Massenet, Strauss, Kienzl and Falla. The overture here is a substantial work in its own right, with elements of a symphonic poem in its structure, and the style of the music overlays the natural good nature of Jaques-Dalcroze’s style with elements that have a positively Straussian ring.

Even more impressive are the four extracts from La Veillée, stripped of their choral elements and retitled Suite pastorale. The four movements are given descriptive titles: ‘At the window’, ‘The old folk dance’, ‘The forest speaks’ and ‘Sprites’. The general idiom is reminiscent of Fauré’s incidental music to Pelléas et Mélisande, and I find it hard to imagine how these pieces could fit into a choral work at all, no matter how secular the text for the oratorio might have been. The third movement, in particular, has a sombre undertone, and there are points where the idiom approaches close to that of Delius at the same period. (Delius had quite a reputation in Germany before the First World War, but his music made little impact in France although he was in the process of taking up residence there.)

The ‘seven lyric scenes’ which constitute Tragédie d’amour were written somewhat later and certainly seem to have provoked a critical storm at the time of their first performance; the acid-tongued Ernest Ansermet accused Jaques-Dalcroze of having “sacrificed the perceptive poetry of his great talents in favour of pretentious, bombastic, Germanic art”. The booklet note by Jacques Tchamkerten however describes it as “one of its composer’s strongest works”. The idiom displays an acquaintance with the stormier passages of works such as Ravel’s Shéhérazade, and the plot of the cycle (with poems by the composer himself) seems to anticipate the mood of Schoenberg’s Erwartung. But the proportions of the music itself are most peculiar; after six songs during which the singer plumbs the whole range of emotions from rejoicing and ecstasy to despair, with hardly any break for reflection, the seventh song depicts her revenge on the rival who has killed her lover, and then dissolves into an extensive orchestral postlude of some four minutes just at the moment when one might have anticipated a sense of triumph.

The orchestration is, as one might expect of such an expressionist plot, on the dramatic side of heaviness. But I can imagine that it might have sounded more convincing if the performance had been better balanced. The soprano part seems to envisage a decidedly heroic protagonist of the breed of Salome, Elektra or Tove; but in her extensive career, the coloratura specialist Elena Moşuc does not seem to have undertaken any roles much more strenuous than Mimi or Nedda. The clear efforts of the recording engineers to boost her voice – not always successful in ensuring audibility of the text – also reveal an element of strain and unsteadiness that is no less regrettable for compelling our sympathy and understanding. In the quiet passages such as the third song ‘J’attendais’ she makes more of an impression; but the sense remains that she has been badly miscast in this ultra-dramatic role. I should observe that Rob Barnett in an earlier review of this disc for this site was more impressed by her contribution, describing her as the possessor of a “wide-stage voice which smokes and flames in total accord with the orchestral score”. And the work itself is worth getting to know; so despite my reservations about the performance itself this disc is largely self-recommending, especially to those who enjoyed the earlier instalments in the series.

Adriano as usual manages to obtain exceptionally committed playing from his orchestra, the recording is solid and wide-ranging, and the valuable booklet information includes complete texts and translations in both French and English.

Paul Corfield Godfrey

Previous reviews: Jim Westhead ~ Rob Barnett

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