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Fernand de LA TOMBELLE (1854-1928)
Chamber, Choral and Symphonic Music and Melodies
Flemish Radio Choir
Brussels Philharmonic/Hervé Niquet
rec. 2017/18, Palazzetto Bru Zane, Venice; Studio 4 Flagey, Brussels; Jezuïetenkerk, Heverlee, Belgium
French and Latin sung texts with English translations
‘Portraits’ series – Volume 5
BRU ZANE BZ1038 [3 CDs: 199:45]

Despite his large output approaching six hundred works, Parisian-born composer Fernand de La Tombelle remains little known and performances of his works are relatively rare. Palazzetto Bru Zane (the centre for promoting French Romantic music) has already collaborated with the Aparté label on an album of La Tombelle mélodies. Now on Bru Zane’s own label the spotlight returns to La Tombelle’s music as part of its ‘Portraits’ series in a book-CD format.

La Tombelle was initially taught music at home by his mother (a pupil of Thalberg and Liszt), excelled at the keyboard and at around the age of eighteen began to write his own works, while studying the organ under Alexandre Guilmant, the organist of La Trinité who also composed. He later joined the composition class of Théodore Dubois at the Paris Conservatoire. He cultivated other important associations with fellow composers and teachers Saint-Saëns and Massenet, and also with Parisian organisations that promoted French music, notably la Société Nationale de Musique, la Société des compositeurs de musique and also the Schola cantorum.

On this set of 3 CDs is a selection of compositions containing two orchestral works, a concertante score, four chamber works and an instrumental piece for harp, five pieces for chorus both secular and choral, two sets of mélodies. The first CD contains two orchestral works together with a concertante score. Although La Tombelle wrote relatively few orchestral works, played here from his early-to-mid 1890s period are the Impressions matinales (Morning Impressions) - Orchestral Suite No. 1 and Livre d’images (Picture book) - Orchestral Suite No. 2. These are well-crafted works, both light and charming in appeal, beautifully played by the Brussels Philharmonic under Hervé Niquet. Although it was a prize-winning score for La Tombelle, the Fantasy for piano and orchestra was premièred in 1889 to a mixed response. Recorded here is Tombelle’s later 1896 revision for a smaller force with double woodwind. Piano soloist Hannes Minnaar plays with care and colourful expression and is given well-judged orchestral support by Niquet.

Consisting of two chamber works and a collection of choir works, the second CD opens with the Suite for three Cellos written in 1914 and cast in five sections. La Tombelle was inspired by three cellist friends (a father and two sons) and was careful to give equal prominence to the cello parts. Clearly relishing this interesting score, cellists François Salque, Hermine Horiot and Adrien Bellom play with good focus and plenty of elegance. Next, the ensemble I Giardini plays the Piano Quartet which is from around 1886/93 and in four movements most effectively. The Finale, a sonata-rondo movement, is especially successful. Sadly, although attractive the score quite doesn’t quite match the quality and attention of the piano quartets of Chausson, d’Indy or Saint-Saëns. Recorded at Jezuïetenkerk, Heverlee, the selection of works for choir consists of two secular and three sacred texts with the Flemish Radio Choir in captivating form under Hervé Niquet’s direction. Of the secular works, standing out is the enchanting Au fil de l'eau (On the water) a Henri Darsay setting about the glories of being on the water at night. Both beautiful and reverentially sung are the captivating cantata La Voix de l’orgue to La Tombelle’s own text with splendid organ accompaniment by François Saint-Yves and the motet Pie Jesu with its Latin text.

The third CD includes a selection of mélodies, two chamber works and an instrumental piece for harp. From La Tombelle’s output of around one hundred and fifty mélodies written between 1878 and 1926, ten have been selected here including the six work cycle Les Pages d’amour (Pages of Love) with texts by La Tombelle himself. There is much to enjoy here, although I cannot put these La Tombelle songs on the same level as the greatest composers of French mélodies such as Hahn or Poulenc. In fine form, French tenor Yann Beuron performs the songs with clarity and focus, displaying a natural feeling for the text. Pianist Jeff Cohen accompanies Beuron with an impressive level of sensitivity. The two-chamber works are scored for cello and piano. The first is the five-minute-long Andante espressivo, a lovely work of mystery and enchantment. From 1901/02, the Cello Sonata is an attractive work of genuine interest containing a reasonable level of intensity. Cellist Emmanuelle Bertrand and pianist Pascal Amoyel provide well-judged performances that are both thoughtful and satisfying. Especially appealing is the central movement marked Lentement communicating an intense aching passion. The final work on the set the Fantaisie Ballade for pedal harp is a real find. Harpist Nabila Chajai is nuanced and focused and plays beautifully, making a strong case for this engaging chamber work.

Despite being recorded across three locations Palazzetto Bru Zane Venice, Studio 4 Flagey, Brussels and Jezuïetenkerk, Heverlee, the sound quality here is pleasingly consistent. Predictably the Bru Zane presentation is top drawer. A hundred-and-twelve-page hardback book includes four interesting essays (listed below) and several pictures of La Tombelle together with the French sung texts and one in Latin, all with English translations.

These are well-crafted and entirely agreeable works from La Tombelle. Thankfully, I wasn't expecting anything of the elevated quality of, say, Saint-Saëns, Franck, Chausson, d’indy and Massenet but there is much to enjoy on this set, which is ideal for those wanting to explore the byways of French Romantic music.

Michael Cookson

CD 1 [66:20]
1-3. Fantasy for piano and orchestra, op. 26 (1887, revised version from 1896)
Hannes Minnaar (piano)
4-8. Impressions matinales – Orchestral Suite No. 1 (pub. 1892)
9-12. Livre d’images – Orchestral Suite No. 2 (c. 1895)
Brussels Philharmonic/Hervé Niquet

CD 2 [69:23]
1-5. Suite for three Cellos (1914, pub. 1921)
François Salque, Hermine Horiot, Adrien Bellom (cellos)
6-9. Piano Quartet, op. 24 (c. 1886/93, pub. 1895)
I Giardini: Guillaume Chilemann (violin), Marie Chilemann (viola), Pauline Buet (cello), David Violi (piano)
Music for Choir:
10. Le Furet
11. Au fil de l’eau (c. 1910)
12. Madrigal spiritual (1902)
13. La Voix de l’orgue, cantata (1924)
14. Pie Jesu, motet (1909 or later)
Flemish Radio Choir/Hervé Niquet
François Saint-Yves (organ)#

CD 3 [64:02]
Mélodies, for tenor and piano (c. 1880s)
1. Le Livre de la vie
2. À la mère de l’enfant mort
3. Dans l’alcôve sombre
4. Le Secret des vagues
Les Pages d’amour, six mélodies, for tenor and piano (1903)
5. L’Ultime Idole
6. Nuit d’amour
7. Sérénade
8. Retour
9. L’Apaisement
10. La Flambée
Yann Beuron (tenor), Jeff Cohen (piano)
11- Andante espressivo, for cello and piano
12-14. Cello Sonata (1901/02)
Emmanuelle Bertrand (cello), Pascal Amoyel (piano)
15. Fantaisie Ballade for pedal harp
Nabila Chajai (harp)

Centre de musique romantique française, Palazzetto Bru Zane, Venice, Italy
22, 23 April 2017 - Suite for three cellos
12, 13 May 2017 - Piano Quartet
6, 7 April 2017 - Mélodies
2, 3, 4 May 2017 - Andante espressivo, for cello and piano; Cello Sonata
20 March 2017 - Fantaisie-ballade for pedal harp
Studio 4 Flagey, Brussels, Belgium
29, 30 October 2018 - Fantasy for piano and orchestra
1, 2, 3 October 2018 - Impressions matinales – Orchestral Suite No. 1; Livre d’images – Orchestral Suite No. 2
Jezuïetenkerk, Heverlee, Belgium
18/22 June 2018 - Music for chorus

Book contents:
Jean-Christophe Branger: ‘La Tombelle’s artistic and musical circle’
Fernand de La Tombelle: ‘Autobiographical notes’
Jean-Emmanuel Filet: ‘Constellations in sound’
Antonia de Peretti Orsini: ‘Beyond the composer: the man’
Sung French texts (one Latin) with English translations.

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