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Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No 3
Jean-Yves Ossonce, cond; Isabelle Philippe (sop); Élodie Méchain (alt); Marc Laho (ten); Jean Teitgen (bs); Erik Satie Voc Ens, Jacques Ibert Voc Ens, Opus 37 Voc Ens, Tours Region Center SO
TIMPANI 1C1190 (47:42 Text and Translation)
By faith Ropartz was an ardent Roman Catholic, by musical training a follower of Franck. Yet the breadth of his musical and personal friendships extended from Magnard, an ardent Dreyfusard, to D’Indy, who wrote him repeatedly with great
earnestness to avoid contamination by Germans, Socialists, Jews, peasants, and above all, Protestants. His surviving correspondence shows that it wasn’t politics that drove his friendships; he valued the integrity and regard for truth of Magnard, and the concern for keeping important traditions alive in D’Indy. Yet the political climate around the turn of the 20th century in France was such that it was impossible to avoid coming down passionately on one side of the great political divide or the other. Ropartz, who chose never to debate such matters, nonetheless gave a clear enough answer of where he stood in the Symphony No. 3.
The work is in four movements, the slow movement and scherzo presented in quick succession as a single unit. Given Ropartz’s strong religious convictions, the text is almost pantheistic at times—as in the opening movement’s brief invocation of the sun, the sea, the forest, and the plain (who will share the pain and healing of humanity in the second and fourth movements, respectively). The musical language of the lengthy orchestral section that follows it is closer to the conservatory Impressionists than Franck, with well-defined and varied themes, strongly focused development, and glowing orchestral palette.
The slow second movement is a
with a thematic resemblance to Yeats’s poem
The Second Coming
, though with more passion. The chorus-as-narrator and four soloists declare their personal suffering “where men implore deaf gods,” where “man tramples man,” where “might makes right … we weep, no one consoles us.” The most impressive part is a slow, despairing fugue in four voices, using a chromatically descending figure that leads to and plays beneath the chorus. It was a good decision to follow all of this with the orchestra-only scherzo, dominated by an incessant, frustrated energy, Franckian chromatic harmonies, and suddenly spiking melodic line.
The finale is the longest of the three movements, at 18:36. It opens with a recitative-like introduction that, allowing for the passage of time and shifts of style, was surely meant to invoke memories in some listeners of the finale to Beethoven’s Ninth. (French nationalists of the period declared their loathing for Germany and German culture, but considered the French-inspired sentiments of that movement a moral exemplar.) The text advises an end to selfishness: to ease one’s suffering, ease one’s neighbor’s, and regard all with compassion. The broad, slow, contemplative orchestra-only section that follows is among the finest Ropartz ever wrote, on a par with those of the Fourth and Sixth string quartets (Timpani 1C1115). The chorus then joins in the next section to inject a note of triumphant enthusiasm, though the gradual chromatic drift upward goes on too long, and the textures are a bit too undifferentiated.
The liner notes for this album give the impression that the symphony was an uncontested triumph, and awarded the Crescent Prize of the Académie des Beaux-Arts. But it wasn’t as successful outside Nancy, where Ropartz was a respected and even beloved figure, as director of the conservatory. In Paris in particular, the symphony was hotly debated. Pierre Lalo, for example, approved of its music in a 1907 review in
, emphasizing its structural and musical complexity, and confirming his belief in music as possessing a moral dimension. Yet the critic also deplored that its text resembled works of Zola, and suffered from “superficial banality” and “false amplitude.” Ropartz appeared to be taking political sides, and critics of less probity than Lalo would throw the music out with the words.
The Third Symphony requires large forces for its performance, and it was a good idea to hire Jean-Yves Ossonce to conduct the work. He brings to it a sense of musical structure and an ability to keep textures clear: requirements in so intricate a score. Ossonce is at his best in the first movement’s balance of colors, and in the slow movement and orchestral section of the finale, where a combination of disciplined clarity, passion, and nuanced phrasing show the symphony at its best. By contrast, the
scherzo is taken at an
on the slow side, obscuring some of its point and wit. The Tours Region Center Symphony Orchestra is a good second-tier ensemble, with strong soloists and decent sectional work. The various vocal groups that lend their musicians for the chorus inflect well, though they are occasionally a bit scrappy. Élodie Méchain’s wide vibrato aside, all of the soloists are effective, with Jean Teitgen a standout: a fine
, with a convincing technique and excellent enunciation.
The orchestral sound is bright, if not spacious, and the vocal soloists properly balanced. Unfortunately the chorus is recessed from the microphones, losing some of the distinction between their voice parts, and a fair degree of upper partials. Its timing of 47:42 is also a strike against this album. Granted, there might have been problems getting funding to add more music with such a personnel-intensive piece, but Timpani has a back catalog. Surely something could have been arranged.
As against this, the Symphony No. 3 is unlikely to appear on records again soon, and the performance is good enough in general to surmount such issues. Fans of Ropartz will definitely want it, but it should appeal to a wider audience, as well.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 3 in E major by Joseph Guy Ropartz
Jean Teitgen (Bass),
Isabelle Philippe (Soprano),
Elodie Méchain (Mezzo Soprano),
Marc Laho (Tenor)
Jean Yves Ossonce
Ensemble Erik Satie,
Ensemble Jacques Ibert,
Ensemble Opus 37
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1905; France
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Ropartz Choral Symphony January 3, 2013
By J. MacElderry (Moorestown, NJ) See All My Reviews
"This three movement work written in 1906 to a text by the composer,is brilliantly performed by this French chorus and orchestra. The style could best be described as post Franck, moving toward Debussy, but not sounding at all like anyone else's music. It is a strikeingly beautiful work. Full text is provided. The only negative is the 48 minute length. A shame they could not add one or two of his orchestral songs to fill out the CD. Highly recommended."