Notes and Editorial Reviews
Le conte de Cendrillon
Gábor Takács-Nagy, cond; Clémence Tilquin (
); David Hernandez Anfruns (
); Varduhi Khachatryan (
); Alexandra Hewson (
); Geneva High School of Music O
CLAVES 501202 (68:07
German & French only)
Despite his American-sounding name, Frank Martin was Swiss, the son of a Calvinist minister, which religion apparently tortured him throughout his life. He also went through a long period of artistic development before discovering his true style, not fully endorsing any of his works much before the secular oratorio
Le Vin herbé
of 1938, when he was 48 years old.
Le conte de Cendrillon,
composed under the German title
Das Märchen vom Aschenbrödel
(and thus sung in German, both here and at the first performance), premiered at the Basel Municipal Theater on March 12, 1942, where it was paired with (of all things!) Monteverdi’s
Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda.
Yet, when one listens to this score, perhaps that was not such an odd choice after all, since Martin’s neoclassicism has much in common with the Monteverdi work, not the least of which is that it was conceived as an orchestral ballet with vocal soloists. The music is incredibly atmospheric, in fact more like a chamber symphony in sound and texture than like a conventional ballet score. Nothing Stravinsky ever wrote, except possibly parts of
, are anywhere near as delicate and transparent as this. The orchestra consists of a small coterie of strings, one each of flute, trumpet, trombone, and oboe, two saxophones, piano, and light percussion. The four singers—soprano, mezzo, contralto, and tenor—split up the various character parts, with their lines being taken from the Grimm fairy tale. As might be expected, the vocal writing is similarly light, reminding one of Hahn or Poulenc (in places, the latter’s
La voix humaine
came to mind). Yet the work lay fallow for almost 70 years before it was staged again, in Geneva in 2010 (later, the same production was also given in Budapest), and that revival inspired this recording using the same conductor and orchestra (but different singers).
Despite its chamber-sized orchestra, the music consistently holds one’s interest. Although it is disappointing not to have a translation of the text in English, this is, after all, the Grimm fairy tale transposed to the stage, so if you know the story you’ll have no real trouble following it. (It’s pretty easy to “hear” the shrill voices of the stepsisters in the singers’ parts, for instance.) Mercifully, all the singers have good voices, and of the appropriately light, bright quality to which this score is so well suited. Their diction is also excellent, a real plus.
There are so many moments in this music when the listener is caught by a particularly interesting or piquant phrase that moves one to great admiration. Although I was completely unfamiliar with the music, I have to give conductor Takács-Nagy credit for holding everything together in that typically Hungarian way, making one able to “see” dancers in one’s mind even without having seen the stage performance (which is, happily, available on YouTube for those who are interested).
One of the charming things about this release is that it includes photos, not of the 2010 Geneva production, but from the 1942 original staging. It’s something of an emotional shock, when you think about it, to see so much hard work and money put towards the creation of something new and beautiful at a time when the world was virtually exploding due to war. This is a major rediscovery, and I can only hope that other ballet companies pick up on it and perform it in the years to come.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
Works on This Recording
Le conte de Cendrillon by Frank Martin
Clémence Tilquin (Soprano)
Geneva Haute Ecole de Musique Orchestra
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