Concerto Romantique, Op.35
Violin Concerto No.2, Op.131
Scènes poétiques, Op.46
Chloë Hanslip (violin)
Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra, Košice
Recorded 1-5 June 2007 in The House of Arts, Košice, Slovakia
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: February 2008
CD No: NAXOS 8.570554
Duration: 66 minutes
Paris-born Benjamin Louis Paul Godard (1849-1895) – he died at the age of 45 – was a child-prodigy violinist and became a prolific composer, not least of eight operas, notching up more than one-hundred opus-numbers in his relatively short life (which also embraced conducting and holding a professorship at the Paris Conservatoire). Yet, his music is hardly ever heard; only ‘Berceuse’ from his opera “Jocelyn” gets the occasional airing, music known by its melody rather than name.
This Naxos release begins with the second of Godard’s two violin concertos (Opus 131 no less), which is in the customary three movements and plays for an ideal 25 minutes; ‘ideal’ because Godard clearly places value on classical proportion as well as writing agreeable music. He is not looking to change the world or make a big statement. It must be said that Godard’s musical ideas are not particularly memorable, although they are pleasing while listening to them – but he has the advantage of economy, moving on to something else, and then wrapping things up without much ado. The rather operatic central Adagio quasi andante is the highlight and contrasts with the finale that scampers merrily along with bouncy rhythms, chattering woodwinds and the occasional ping of a triangle.
The earlier and immediately appealing Concerto Romantique is in four movements and is the shorter of the two violin concertos. An energised, rather devilish, first movement gives way to a soulful Adagio; then comes a whimsical, gently-dancing ‘Canzonetta’ before a thrusting if warmly lyrical finale.
Well done to Chloë Hanslip for taking these pieces up; they may be nothing special and light-years away from, say, Max Bruch’s ubiquitous G minor Violin Concerto in terms of being an unmistakable ‘work of art’, but Godard’s lack of pretension and his mellifluous phrases are there to be enjoyed. Nothing more. Whether either concerto is quite as well-served as ideal is another matter; maybe Hanslip plays with too much intensity for the modest nature of the music, although her affection and preparedness is evident, and Kirk Trevor rather beefs-up fortissimos and none of the musicians is helped by too-spacious and edgy an acoustic. A lighter and more intimate touch seems needed.
The disc is completed by the four-movement Scènes poétiques. ‘In the Woods’, ‘In the Fields’, ‘On the Mountain’ and ‘In the Village’ is all you need to know to get the picture(s). It’s pleasant enough ‘light music’ that lacks distinction, although this Slovak performance seems without the required ‘helping hand’. Furthermore, the recording is somewhat blighted by a peculiarly ‘hissy’ right-hand channel – not evident in the concertos. Therefore this release is recommended primarily to violin-fanciers.