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Ropartz: Cello Rhapsody, Etc / Demarquette, Karabits, Et Al

Release Date: 03/28/2006 
Label:  Timpani   Catalog #: 1095   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Joseph Guy Ropartz
Performer:  Henri Demarquette
Conductor:  Kirill Karabits
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Brittany Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Joseph-Guy Ropartz (1864–1955) stood to the bar in deference to his father’s wishes, but after graduation attended the Paris Conservatoire. There he studied with Dubois and Massenet. A chance encounter with d’Indy’s Le chant de la cloche in 1886 left him greatly affected, and the young composer immediately switched allegiances and teachers for Franck. It was this latter training that was to form the foundation of Ropartz’s musical language, though it was strongly influenced as well by the Impressionists. His many years spent as a very successful administrator of musical conservatories first at Nancy and then at Strasbourg exposed an enthusiastic Ropartz to folk music as well, at a time when the original tunes were still indigenous to the Read more countryside, rather than a matter of concerned preservation in urban areas.

Both Franck (to whom the score is dedicated) and folk music from Brittany can certainly be heard in the incidental suite to Pêcheur d’Islande. Originally a novel by Pierre Loti, it had been converted into a play by the poet Louis Tiercelin, who in turn commissioned the music in 1888. Ropartz published three substantial movements drawn from it. The first, an atmospheric “La mer d’Islande,” confirms Ropartz’s Franckian credentials with a syncopated, chromatic ostinato figure in the bass, brooding ominously, that could have come from his master’s pen. “The Love Scene” is both lyrical and restrained, but the real gem of the suite lies in its final movement, “Les danses.” Meant to depict a wedding scene, Ropartz had recourse to folk themes of genuine Breton character, including one in 5/4. I’m sure regional peasants would have found nothing surprising about the theme, but it supposedly confounded many members of the audience at the play’s premiere. One attendee was said to have asked Ropartz, “What’s the use of this extraordinary five-beat timebar? Wouldn’t four have been enough for you?” to which the composer replied, “You see, sir, for a wedding, four beats are rather meager.” The extra beat means little to our modern ears, well attuned to the rhythms of Kodály, Stravinsky, Khachaturian, Tubin, and a variety of other composers, but the piece survives by virtue of its élan, solid technique, and piquant charm.

The 1928 Rhapsodie is another work based on Breton folk music, but an altogether subtler one. The folk themes have been largely reduced to fragmentary gestures, or distorted statements over unrelated harmonic movement. It is a sunny piece, alternately relaxed and playful, with the general character of a series of very transformed variations underpinned by constant cross-references. In this, perhaps, can be seen best the continuing impact of the organist from Sainte-Clotilde.

The final work on the album is yet another suite, this time drawn from music accompanying a 1914 production of Sophocles’s Oedipe à Colone. Ropartz’s suite succeeds in avoiding the dreary and academic, in part because he shuns monumentality. Four out of five of its movements are pastoral (Prelude to act II), genially martial (Theseus’s Entrance), and gently melancholy (Prelude to act I, Lament). Only the Prelude to act III, with its menacing hunting call theme, inhabits a world of strife, and it does so without melodramatic gestures before achieving a quiet breakthrough into a major key. I suspect (admittedly without proof) that it was the “antique” subject matter that led Ropartz in this instance to employ a modalism and orchestration at times reminiscent of Fauré, notably so in the Prelude to act I; but in any case, this is a suite that makes a virtue of intimacy, and would seem well chosen to accompany Sophocles’s most sublime and intimate play.

The Bretagne Orchestra is competent, though there is one mediocre solo and a few instances of suspect intonation. I’ve heard this ensemble to better effect in a recording of several Gossec symphonies (ASV DCA 1124). They certainly have no problems here under Kirill Karabits’s direction in providing spirit where required, but the acoustic and recording is against them: a bit too distant, more than a bit too dry. It robs their already small string contingent of plush, and makes them sound wiry and dull. Cellist Henri Demarquette is also a victim of this treatment—more’s the pity, because he is a distinguished former student of Maurice Gendron and a fine musician with a burnished tone (under other circumstances). Still, you’re not likely to get another chance at this music, and as I hope my review indicates, it’s music that is definitely worthy of your attention.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Works on This Recording

Pêcheur d'Islande: Suite by Joseph Guy Ropartz
Conductor:  Kirill Karabits
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Brittany Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1891; France 
Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra by Joseph Guy Ropartz
Performer:  Henri Demarquette (Cello)
Conductor:  Kirill Karabits
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Brittany Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1928; France 
Oedipe à Colonne: Suite by Joseph Guy Ropartz
Conductor:  Kirill Karabits
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Brittany Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: by 1914; France 

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