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Charpentier Et Le Prix De Rome / Niquet, Brussels Philharmonic, Flemish Radio Choir

Charpentier / Feubel / Brussels Phil / Niquet
Release Date: 11/22/2011 
Label:  Glossa   Catalog #: 922211  
Composer:  Gustave Charpentier
Performer:  Bernard RichterManon FeubelSabine DevieilheJulien Dran,   ... 
Conductor:  Hervé Niquet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Belgian Guides Symphonic BandBrussels Philharmonic OrchestraFlemish Radio Choir
Number of Discs: 2 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

G. CHARPENTIER Impressions d’Italie. Didon. 1 La Vie du poète. 2 La Fête des myrtes Hervé Niquet, 2 Yves Segers, cond; 1 Manon Feubel, 2 Sabine Devieilhe (sop); 2 Helena Bohuscewicz (alt); 1 Read more class="ARIAL12">Julien Dran, 2 Bernard Richter (tenor); 1 Marc Barrard, 2 Alain Buet (bar); 2 Belgian Guides Royal Symphonic Band; Brussels PO GLOSSA 922211 (2 CDs: 124: 57 Text and Translation)

This extremely interesting album presents no fewer than four works that Gustave Charpentier, the famed composer of Louise, wrote as part of his competition and follow-up for the Prix de Rome in 1887, 1888, and 1889.

Since the performances on these CDs are given out of chronological order, I feel it a better format for this review to discuss them in the order of composition so that we can follow Charpentier’s immediate influences at the time of composition. The orchestral-choral piece La Fête des myrtes (1887) is the actual music that won Charpentier his Prix de Rome in 1887; he was 27 at the time, considerably older than his competitors, but that was due to his being too poor to afford continuous studies rather than to his being slow.

It follows the perverted logic of record companies that the piece that won Charpentier the Prix de Rome, La Fête des myrtes, is programmed last on this album. Not only is this its first recording, but the first time the music has been published. Conductor Niquet prepared his performance from the autograph score. It sounds curiously like a cross between Berlioz and Charpentier’s mentor, Massenet. Although not a great piece, it is striking, and one can easily imagine the good impression it had on the Prix de Rome judges.

Didon , a cantata Charpentier possibly wrote as an extended thank-you note for the prize, was so successful when given in concert that it was repeated in Belgium, yet Charpentier never considered it more than an academic exercise. Some of the music, particularly in later sections of the cantata, is very interesting and original, but the first three movements do sound like an academic exercise. Soprano Manon Feubel’s voice is simply wall-to-wall wobble, and her high notes are screams. Oh, well, just write her off and move on. Tenor Julien Dran’s voice is a little dry and a shade tight on top, but he has a heroic ring and sings with dramatic interpretation. Baritone Marc Barrard probably has the best voice of the three; it has a very slight looseness of vibrato, but not enough to annoy, and his light timbre and pleasant tone make for very comfortable listening. Unfortunately, every time Feubel opens her mouth she spoils the music, even when Dran and/or Barrard are with her.

Following his winning the prize, the conservatory apparently had second thoughts about actually sending Charpentier to Italy, which they considered a musically backward country that could teach him nothing! Luckily, they did let him go, and during his two years there he grew tremendously as an artist. He traveled to Florence and Venice, attending the art galleries, and also found time to go to Bayreuth, where he saw one performance of Parsifal and three of Die Meistersinger. His first musical reaction, and the score he sent back to Paris, was La Vie du poète (1888), which is both the most dramatic and the most original and arresting music in this set. In addition to possibly being influenced by Die Meistersinger, it is extraordinarily interesting, even the section in the long first movement where the chorus repeats the same short motif at loud volume for close to a minute. Parts of the score also remind me of early Richard Strauss, although the last movement—titled “Ivresse”—begins with a motor rhythm more reminiscent of the Venusburg music from Tannhäuser . Happily, Sabine Devieilhe is a much finer soprano than Feubel, her voice light and headily vibrant in the typical French manner. Bernard Richter is an even better tenor than Dran, even though Dran isn’t too bad. Contralto Helena Bohuscewicz is tolerable, at least, but baritone Alain Buet is the fly in the ointment here, his voice not only dry but with a slow beat bordering on wobble.

Finally came Impressions d’Italie (1889)—ironically, programmed first in this set—which is not only interesting and well wrought but also highly atmospheric, almost a prelude to the similarly atmospheric music he would write for the dawn and daybreak sequences in Louise. Of course, there are also Italianate rhythms that give the music a nice bouncy impetus and mark it as different from the rest of his oeuvre. I am very impressed not only by the sweep of Hervé Niquet’s conducting in each piece, but also by the magnificent sound quality of the recording. Although there is natural hall resonance, it completely lacks the goopy over-reverberance one hears on so many modern digital productions, with the result that when the orchestra plays a crescendo, you really hear and feel it!

These are the first recordings of Didon and La Fête des myrtes, but Impressions d’Italie is also available by others, including Marco Guidarini (Talent 106), Charpentier himself (an early electrical recording on Pearl 176), and Charpentier’s friend Albert Wolff (another early electrical recording, on Timpani 4024). La Vie du poète is also available on the same Pearl CD, conducted by Charpentier and featuring the singing of Germaine Féraldy, as the Impressions d’Italie. Yet except for the simply horrible singing of Feubel, in a piece that is the weakest of the four anyway, this is a musically fine set with outstanding performances.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

La Vie du Poète by Gustave Charpentier
Conductor:  Hervé Niquet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Belgian Guides Symphonic Band,  Brussels Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1892; France 
Impressions d'Italie by Gustave Charpentier
Conductor:  Hervé Niquet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Brussels Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1887-1889; France 
Didon by Gustave Charpentier
Performer:  Bernard Richter (Tenor), Manon Feubel (Soprano), Sabine Devieilhe (Soprano),
Julien Dran (Tenor), Marc Barrard (Baritone), Alain Buet (Bass)
Conductor:  Hervé Niquet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Brussels Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: France 
La Fête des myrtes by Gustave Charpentier
Conductor:  Hervé Niquet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Flemish Radio Choir,  Brussels Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: France 

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