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“Aux étoiles: French Symphonic Poems”
César Franck: Le Chasseur maudit, CFF 128 (Ed. Grus)
Ernest Guiraud: Ouverture d’Arteveld, opus 10 (Ed. Durand)
Lili Boulanger: D’un matin de printemps
Vincent d’Indy: Istar, opus 42
Paul Dukas: L’Apprenti sorcier
Alfred Bruneau: La Belle au bois dormant
Augusta Holmès: La Nuit et l’Amour (Ed. Palazzetto Bru Zane)
Mel Bonis: Le Rêve de Cléopâtre, opus 180 n° 2 (Ed. Furore)
Henri Duparc: Aux étoiles (Ed. Palazzetto Bru Zane)
Ernest Chausson: Viviane, opus 5 (Ed. Bornemann)
Charlotte Sohy: Danse mystique, opus 19 (Ed. Labey)
Emmanuel Chabrier: Espana (Ed. Enoch)
Victorin Joncières: La Toussaint (Ed. Palazzetto Bru Zane)
Camille Saint-Saëns: Danse macabre, opus 40 (Ed. Durand)
Henri Rabaud: La Procession nocturne, opus 6 (Ed. Durand)

Orchestre national de Lyon, Giovanni Radivo (concertmaster and soloist), Nikolaj Szeps‑Znaider (conductor)
Recording: Auditorium de Lyon, France (May 3‑7, 2021 and September 6‑9, 2022) – 147’12
Bru Zane BZ 2007 (Distributed by Naxos of America) – Booklet in English, French and German

This Bru Zane release focuses around the “Symphonic Poem”, an idée that saw its growth in France as early as the early 19th century, beginning with Hector Berlioz. This genre has significant gravity while also seeking clarity and deeper dialogue between music and other artistic disciplines. While the subject matter moves about, striking a ‘curiosity factor’, it’s one which will connect to each one of us in a thoughtful, personalized way. Like a musical painting, an exciting discovery keenly awaits. Fifteen (15) composers, both male and female, occupy this engaging compartment with strong yields.

Celestially titled, Henri Duparc’s eponymous work gives polite discourse and outline of compositions within. While the veil is demure, pocketed by grandiosity (a bit Wagnerian), the outcomes are minimal and restrained. Though its position is buried within the second CD, it acts as a ‘diplomatic umbrella’ to the remaining music.

The storyline, however, begins with the longest and, perhaps, most frenetically-driven œuvre by César Franck. Le Chasseur maudit firmly interprets Gottfried August Bürger’s ballad, Der wilde Jäger, which, orchestrally-speaking, is set ablaze. Prickly in precise detail, M. Szeps‑Znaider’s insistences grab the spotlight.

Riding on the coattails of Franck’s dynamism, we encounter Ernest Guiraud and his historical depiction of the Flemish rebel, Jacob van Artevelde. The Ouverture d’Arteveld is a dazzler: electrifying, persuasive and, perhaps, one of the best pieces to grace the recording. Briskly‑paced, frenzied and oft times feudally agitated, Guiraud’s strength catapults forward to the finish line. Compositionally-speaking, it’s a ‘show‑stopper’, for the quietly‑credited man was known for writing orchestral recitatives for Bizet’s Carmen (1875) and Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann (1881).

Like a sponge, Ernest Chausson absorbed everything. Riding on the cusp of innovation, here’s Viviane, chock‑block with theatricality, à la Britannic chivalry. Nikolaj Szeps‑Znaider draws an immaculate field around the music, pulling the listener into his whirlpool of magnetism with awe. Wagner, forever present, Viviane acts as a musical “sequel” to Albéniz’s Celtic Merlin (1898‑1902). The strength abounds with dignity and command.

Gratitude is extended to Bru Zane for opening the channel to the female contingent that clearly adds to the historical beauties and perspectives of the 19th century French symphonic poem. With an entrée by a moody bassoon, Charlotte Sohy’s Danse mystique bristles with tension and tremor...clearly, one of the more ominous of pieces inside “Aux étoiles”. Though its somber initiatives predominate, the piece “clicks away” with caution, hesitancy and mild severity. Lili Boulanger’s D’un matin de printemps deals with another cerebral intangible that could be called a ‘psychological compression line thriller’. While Debussy’s ethereal landscape wafts on the sidelines, the piece thrashes about in painful uneasiness: this points back to the composer’s incessant battles of health issues since her birth in 1893. Szeps‑Znaider captures the quixotic realms of ‘blissful torment’ in striking flair...unsettling, yet barbed with excitement. Similar to Debussy’s idées de rêve, pensive thoughts surround Mel Bonis’ heart inside her Le Rêve de Cléopâtre. Mysterious, alongside confluences of rudderless wispiness, the dream (1’27) abbreviates to the former’s Images (ref: “Les Parfums de la nuit”), yet spouts of weightiness gather steam. This œuvre occasionally erupts with edginess that clearly acquiesces to the Queen’s imminent demise. A weighty piece.

Emmanuel Chabrier interestingly segues from Mlle Sohy’s doleful danse with an unexpected and grossly over‑hyped Espana. Without much breathing room to spare, M. Szeps‑Znaider turns the jota into a blistering dash to the finish line: (i.e. flutes and harp extracts missing?...perhaps the Enoch Edition?). Puzzling; nonetheless, the reading is magnanimously ebullient.

Imagination ‘catches the wind’ in many selections, such as in Vincent d’Indy’s Istar that’s spawned by Péladan’s curiosities presented inside the Assyrian Epic of Izdubar. The plot closely follows that of the reviewer’s recent critique of Adam’s 1856 ballet, Orfa. Musically, d’Indy’s creation is reminiscent of Glazunov’s 1898 ballet, Raymonda. This resplendent equation firmly places Istar inside the realm of French post-Romanticism. Indeed, d’Indy’s proclivities for Germanic élan overshadow the ethereal influences of Debussy and Ravel.

But if the bells ever toll the virtues of Richard Wagner (in particular, Lohengrin’s shimmering “Prelude”), Irishwoman native Augusta Holmès may surface. “Absorption” summarizes her belief of embracing the arts in toto: paintings, oratorios, operas and symphonies. Mlle Holmès focuses upon Pierre Puvis de Chavannes’ painting, Ludus pro patria (“Patriot Games”). Commencing with a verdant cello blush, the music is legato, broad and rapturous, setting up a statement of formal pomp, and, here, The Lyon National Orchestra plays this piece with elegant panache.

Laden with gravitas, La Toussaint, unveils the severity of Victorin Joncières’ piece that’s better known as “All Saints’ Day”. Celebrating the end of life with grave decorum, quick moments of benevolence appear and ‘stir up the dust’, giving the piece benevolent breaths. Severe. On the same azimuth, Saint‑Saëns’ well‑recognized Danse macabre is performed with attentive proportions, including those of snappy xylophone strikes and M. Radivo’s suave obbligato lines. Stimulating and well‑punctuated.

Hints of Tristan und Isolde (ref: “Liebestod”) (1859) prevail inside Henri Rabaud’s La Procession nocturne. Based on an episodic memento of Faust, the composition is a far reach from Gounod’s Faust. Despite its divergence from the latter, Rabaud’s orchestral colouring broadens with illustrious tinctures. As if to evoke a painting, there lies the firm avenue into Wagner’s influences, filled with deeply contemplative richness.

While on a similar trajectory as Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours, the orchestra slowly peels away to expose the sonorous violin richness of Giovanni Radivo and Alfred Bruneau’s unforgettable motif inside La Belle au bois dormant. Though thinly balanced in French foundation, the music is more akin to heavier fairytale Germanic extracts, turning more towards the Grimm storyline instead of Charles Perrault. Often enough we hear pinches of Tchaikovsky’s grandiloquent balletic traits.

Lastly, Nikolaj Szeps‑Znaider’s equations inside Dukas’ L’Apprenti sorcier can be embraced as ‘exhilarating and predictable with subtle tempo startles’. Thrifty and economical.

Bru Zane’s strong illustrations, citing the French Symphonic Poems, are stellar and eye‑opening.

Christie Grimstad




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