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Alfred Bruneau: Requiem; Claude Debussy: Pelleas Et Melisande, Symphony

Bruneau / Delunsch / Sym Orch & Chorus La Monnaie
Release Date: 03/11/2014 
Label:  Cypres   Catalog #: 7615   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Alfred BruneauClaude Debussy
Conductor:  Ludovic Morlot
Orchestra/Ensemble:  La Monnaie Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BRUNEAU Requiem. DEBUSSY/CONSTANT Pelleas et Melisande Symphony Ludovic Morlot, cond; Mireille Delunsch (s); Nora Gubisch (mez); Edgaras Montvidas (t); Jérôme Varnier (bs); Vlaams R Ch; SO, Ch, & Children’s Ch of Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie / de Munt CYPRES 7615 (63:40)

In Fanfare 9:1 I was less than enthusiastic about my first encounter with the music of Read more Alfred Bruneau (1857–1945), an oratorio called Lazare . I found it lacking in melodic inspiration. In 10:2, John Ditsky was a bit more favorable about the same recording (though hardly enthusiastic). In 18:1, David Johnson reviewed a disc of orchestral highlights from operas by Bruneau much more enthusiastically, noting that he too had been underwhelmed by Lazare when he had heard it. This Requiem is my first encounter with Bruneau since Lazare , and I enjoyed this so much that I went back to see if perhaps my taste had changed. It didn’t. Lazare remains a bland, uninspired work, filled with attractive sounds but little memorable content.

This Requiem may not be a masterpiece of the top rank, but it is a rich and effective 40-minute work that holds the listener’s attention throughout. The Dies irae is one of the more striking uses of the 13th-century chant that we know from Berlioz, Rachmaninoff, and so many others. Bruneau sets the text to that tune, with a counterpoint of trumpets that is very striking. Bruneau’s forces are large: two harps, organ, six extra trumpets, and a children’s choir in addition to a large adult one. Much of the work, though, is calm and quiet. There is at times an operatic feel to the music, no surprise since Bruneau was an operatic composer. This work will not replace Berlioz or Fauré in the repertoire, not to mention Verdi, but it is a compelling piece meriting an occasional hearing.

We are fortunate in that this recording—only the second to my knowledge; I have not heard the 1994 RCA release conducted by Jacques Mercier, now long out of print—is led by one of today’s finest exponents of the French repertoire in Morlot. Whether thundering at full force or shaping a tender melody, Morlot clearly believes in this score and has convinced his forces at Brussels’s opera house (of which he is the chief conductor) to dig in with conviction. Not all of the soloists are front rank—the soprano is a bit hard-toned and the bass somewhat wooly with no real tonal center—but they do not seriously impede enjoyment. It is, however, a shame that a recording of an attractive work from the past, clearly well prepared and conducted, could not have managed stronger soloists.

The suite from Debussy’s Pelleas et Melisande , arranged by the Dutch composer Marius Constant, is an effective filler and is performed with a singularly keen ear for balance and color. The recorded sound is warm and natural, though just a bit cramped at climaxes. There are excellent notes to introduce the listener to Bruneau. No text is provided, but since it is a standard Requiem that should not be a problem. Anyone with an affinity for French music at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries is likely to find much pleasure here.

FANFARE: Henry Fogel
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Works on This Recording

Requiem by Alfred Bruneau
Conductor:  Ludovic Morlot
Orchestra/Ensemble:  La Monnaie Orchestra
Pelléas et Mélisande: Symphonie by Claude Debussy
Conductor:  Ludovic Morlot
Orchestra/Ensemble:  La Monnaie Orchestra
Notes: Arranged by Marius Constant. 

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