Marche des petits soldats de plomb
Piano Concerto in C minor
Divertissements sur un Thème Pastoral
Ramuntcho – Suite No.1 & Suite No.2
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano)
Recorded 19 December 2009 and 8 & 9 January 2010 in Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: January 2011
CD No: CHANDOS CHAN 10633
Duration: 67 minutes
As part of its January 2011 releases, Chandos has a couple of BBC Philharmonic issues that are pivotal to the orchestra’s history of Principal Conductors – this one, a collection of music by Gabriel Pierné, is led by Juanjo Mena, the BBC Phil’s designate chief, and there is also a disc entitled The Italian Intermezzo under his outgoing predecessor, Gianandrea Noseda.
Gabriel Pierné (1863-1937) died in the same year as Ravel and Roussel – a similar threesome of loss as experienced in England in 1934 with the passing of Delius, Elgar and Holst. Pierné was not only a composer but also an organist and a conductor – in the latter occupation he was associated for thirty years with Concerts Colonne, 23 of them spent as Chief Conductor – an appointment from 1910, the same year that he conducted the premiere of Stravinsky’s The Firebird for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes company.
This Pierné CD begins with The March of the Little Lead Soldiers, a delightful ditty (originally for piano) that is here given a really sparking performance, but what a shame that ‘March of the Little Fauns’ from Cydalise et le Chèvre-pied is excluded, for it is correspondingly popular – something acknowledged as such in the booklet note (which fails to inform about Pierné’s pioneering association with The Firebird).
Pierné’s Piano Concerto (1887) is in one sense risible, including as it does just about every cliché known to the genre of the ‘romantic piano concerto’, yet also irresistible in its charm, sweep and heroic gestures. Never mind the comparison with Rachmaninov (although the opening cadenza has anticipations of the still-to-be-written Prelude in C sharp minor), this is the Warsaw Concerto several decades before Richard Addinsell composed it for the 1941 film “Dangerous Moonlight”. The mighty chords for the soloist to open the work (as much Liszt as Rachmaninov) already raise a smile, yet this concise three-movement, 20-minute work not only has a large quotient of energy (there is no slow movement), it is also wittily disarming, especially in the delightful scherzo central movement that is closely modelled in positioning and manner on Saint-Saëns’s Piano Concerto No.2. Pierné gives the soloist a light-as-soufflé role as well as bringing in tart comments from a bassoon and an attention-calling solo function for a trumpeter, deftly taken here. Jean-Efflam Bavouzet plays with undisguised bravura and charm.
At the other end of his composing dates, Divertissements sur un Thème Pastoral is from 1931, with the first performance occurring a year later, the composer conducting Orchestre Colonne. It’s a striking work, harmonically and instrumentally (the scoring includes a saxophone, which is given a soulful solo), Pierné not above referencing popular music of the day (without overdoing his drollness in doing so), and full of delightful touches carried out with imagination and assurance. This super piece ends vitally with infectious dance rhythms.
The remaining 33 minutes of the disc are taken up with the Suites from Pierné’s music for a 1908 production of Pierre Loti’s “Ramuntcho”, the Basque countryside and way of life as central to the action as is the “smuggler and pelota champion” Ramuntcho. (Pelota is a broad Spanish description for ball-games involving hand, racket or bat.) Put simply, the music is quite lovely – colourful, vividly descriptive, eloquently characterised, tuneful, atmospheric and lively. Juanjo Mena is on geo-specific home-ground and deeply sympathetic to the music, his new orchestra playing devotedly for him, the final ‘Rapsodie Basque’ joyful in its rustic measures before an exhilarating dash for the finishing post.
Aiding the performers, the BBC Phil and Juanjo Mena a partnership to watch it seems, co-producers Brian Pidgeon and Mike George, together with Steven Rinker’s dynamic and gorgeous sound, have come up with a 2011 Winner long before such Awards have been nominated, let alone chosen. There’s enough Pierné, including some more piano-and-orchestra pieces, for a second volume. Hopefully.