Gwendoline – Overture
Bourrée fantastique [orch. Felix Mottl]
L’Étoile – Overture; Entr’acte before Act II; Entr’acte before Act III
Le Roi malgré lui – Fête polonaise; Danse slave
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande
Recorded 27-29 June 2012 in Victoria Hall, Geneva, Switzerland
CD No: CHANDOS CHSA 5122 Duration: 79 minutes Reviewed: May 2013
Neeme Järvi conducts Orchestral Works by Emmanuel Chabrier [Orchestre de la Suisse Romande; Chandos]
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
It’s always a pleasure to listen to the music of Emmanuel Chabrier (1841-1894), whose gift for melody and colour has been well-attended to in the recording studio over many decades. Collections conducted by Ernest Ansermet, Armin Jordan, Jean-Baptiste Mari, Paul Paray and Michel Plasson are there for a lifetime’s delight. Neeme Järvi’s Suisse Romande Chandos collection has generosity on its side but he doesn’t always emulate his predecessors in interpretative insights or sheer fondness.
That said, this release, recorded in a fabled acoustic, the scene of many successes for Decca and still very much the shrine (still) of Ansermet (1883-1969) – for those of us interested in recordings older than we are and also with an appreciation of vinyl – kicks off with the scintillating Joyeuse marche, given a nimble and spirited outing. There follows a dashing version (with excellent timpani) of the splendid Overture to Gwendoline, Järvi driving the music on with dramatic zeal and finding the time for an expansive ‘big tune’ that will reappear to brassily conclude this unfairly neglected entrée that offers a view into the operatic Chabrier. Other stage-work snippets embrace three from L’Étoile, including the capricious Overture, which features a whimsical violin solo (from Bogdan Zvoristeanu) and a pair of lively entr’actes. From Le Roi malgré lui is the imperious ‘Fête polonaise’, Järvi not as emphatic as in some renditions, yet making a meal of rallentandos while glossing over other possibilities, although there is certainly joie de vivre. ‘Danse slave’ is better managed; less rushed.
After the sultry popular-song that is Habanera, with Lamento being another tantalising example of reclusive Chabrier, comes his famous España, which finds Järvi rather hurried, losing some of the score’s poise and wit, and a bit too picture-postcard; it’s subtler music than this brash delivery allows for. Järvi’s approach comes into its own with Bourrée fantasque, as brilliantly orchestrated from the piano original by Felix Mottl (there’s a more recent one by Robin Holloway) who also scored four of Wagner’s Wesendonck-Lieder. Järvi’s is a stimulating rendition and with give-and-take in more relaxed passages. Suite pastorale is also an orchestral take on piano pieces, this time made by the composer. The opening ‘Idylle’ is affecting, but Järvi could have been broader in tempo (as he could also in the drowsy ‘Sous-bois’) and is no match for Mari. The Suite’s faster numbers suit Järvi better, the bucolic ‘Danse villageoise’ brought off with point and wit, the trio section nudged in with affection and a well-traced bass line and the final ‘Scherzo-valse’ is of foot-stamping vitality, Järvi considerate to his woodwind soloists, who have many notes to scale.
So, if this is not quite a ‘total hit’ collection, or quite in the league of what the afore-mentioned conductors achieved, or indeed the equal of Järvi’s own superb Saint-Saëns compilation for Chandos, there is still much to get pleasure from, and Ralph Couzens’s engineering – for sound that is vivid and within a defined acoustic – is impressive on its own terms.