Le Triomphe de la République
ou Le Camp de Grand Pré Lyric divertissement in one act [Libretto by Joseph Chénier; sung in French]
Laurette Salomé HaIler
Goddess of Liberty Antonella Balducci
Aide-de-Camp Guillemette Lauren
Thomas Makato Sakurada
General Claudio Danuser
Old Man Philippe Huttenlocher
Mayor Arnaud Marzorati
Coro della Radio Svizzera, Lugano
Recorded 24 October 2002 in Auditorio Stelio Molo, RSI, Lugano
Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson
Reviewed: April 2006
CD No: CHANDOS CHACONNE
Duration: 73 minutes
This work is described as a ‘Lyric divertissement in one act’ and is a triumphalist piece celebrating the French Revolution in general and the victory over the Prussians at Valmy on 20 September 1792 in particular. History describes the Battle of Valmy as a Franco-Prussian artillery skirmish fought near there and where heavy rain brought an inconclusive halt, but the encounter revealed the superiority of French artillery and the Prussians, led by Field Marshal Ferdinand, withdrew.
François-Joseph Gossec’s music has a heavy political slant. The French forces at Valmy would no doubt have been made up of Republican sympathisers but the Monarchy had not yet been abolished. Would Gossec (1734-1829) have composed a tribute to a ‘Royalist’ victory had the political situation turned out differently and would he then have celebrated Ferdinand’s later victory over the French in 1793 at Kaiserslautern and Pirmasens?
The form of the music is clear-cut. It commences with a rather exciting three-movement overture for full orchestra but where in music of this period the harmonic underpinning of the timpani would normally be expected, Gossec provides thunderous drum-strokes representing cannon fire. Soon, Mayor and Citizens of Grand Pré, near Valmy, spend much time praising liberty until the approach of the Prussians is revealed to them. To arms – the young men depart – sounds of battle in the distance. An old man bewails his age and weakness, wishing he could join the battle – interestingly Philippe Huttenlocher portrays this vignette; he has a magnificently powerful bass voice and sounds to be in the prime of life.
Triumphant soldiers then return and the conclusion of the drama arrives in the form of two choruses praising liberty; these are divided by the intercession of the Goddess of Liberty who puts in an appearance declaring “France is henceforth the temple wherein I would wish to dwell”.
The philosophy is obvious, the sequence of events fairly predictable but this is not the end; there is a 20-minute sequence of dances representing peoples from all over the world. This turns out to be some of the most original music of all. Gossec is highly imaginative – I am reminded of Dittersdorf’s delightful Symphony ‘The Taste of Five Nations’ with similar cross-references made to music of various nationalities. This is not mere parody but a genuine attempt to portray the differences of national style. I have the impression that the orchestra is delighted to be let loose on this varied assortment. The Polish dance is a gem and I even feel that Gossec captures the right essence when it comes to representing England. The introductory stage directions to this final scene are worth quoting too: “Peoples of various nations enter, English, Swiss, Savoyards, Poles, natives of Champenois, Villagers, Spaniards, Prelates Priests, Nuns etc, Africans beating little drums with their fingers…”. The theory is that in true Republican spirit all the common people of the world celebrate with the French. It all seems desperately patronising but the crisp, joyful playing of tuneful, cleverly constructed music makes amends.
The disc is well recorded. The choral singing is ideally forceful and skilfully balanced. The recurrence of militaristic, Libertarian choruses is rather too frequent but it is difficult to fault such stylish presentation of a period piece – indeed it is so ‘period’ that it must surely have been out of date soon after its first performance.
Gossec however is a highly skilled composer. The interweaving of the voices of town officials, citizens and soldiers is done so well that it is a matter for regret that this expertise had to be applied to such a dire libretto. The tunes for most of the patriotic choruses are predictably banal but the work still includes some admirable melodies.
I know this is a vocal composition yet I find myself recommending this CD on the basis of the realistic recording, the fine playing, the attraction of the overture, and the long sequence of dances in the final act. I must also commend the beautifully produced 79-page booklet with full libretto. What of the vocal bits? Well it is difficult to take the words seriously, but often they are set to jolly good tunes.