DUBOIS Concerto-capriccioso in c. Piano Concerto No. 2 in f. Suite for Piano and String Orchetra in f • Cédric Tiberghien (pn); Andrew Manze, cond; BBC Scottish SO • HYPERION 67931 (65: 22)
The liner notes to this release discuss the career of Théodore Dubois (1837–1924) in few words, and very general ones at that. We’re told of his Premier Grand Prix de Rome in 1861, his professorship of harmony at the Conservatoire in 1871—moving on to that in composition a decadeRead more later—his election to the Institut de France in 1894, and his advancement to the Conservatoire’s directorship two years later. Nothing is mentioned of his character or his times, though much is known about both, and particularly about what we might find one of the most interesting aspects of his career: his intense and unending dislike for the music of Gabriel Fauré.
Dubois was an academician of high-minded principles, but the kind of teacher who embraced very conservative ideas of harmony, and insisted on their never-changing merit. Fauré by contrast was not Conservatoire-trained, but attended the Ecole Niedermeyer, with its emphasis on musical history, including medieval modes. The result in his mature music was an approach to harmonic procedures that was often far from conventional, angering Dubois and his colleagues greatly. (Yes, greatly: when Saint-Saëns pressed Fauré to apply for the Conservatoire’s compositional chair after Guiraud’s death in 1892, the response as reported at the time of the then-director, Ambroise Thomas, was, “Fauré? Never! If he’s appointed, I resign.”) Fauré’s great success in the wealthiest salons of Paris only exacerbated matters, for Dubois had no skill at this; and when Conservatoire politics led to Fauré being appointed Professor of Composition after Dubois was named Director and against his wishes, matters were not helped at all.
More could be said, both from musical and biographical viewpoints. But my point here is to provide the barest of background sketches of the composer to a disc featuring his compositions, as an indication of what might be expected from an acknowledged priest of late 19th-century French musical orthodoxy.
The earliest music offered here is the Concerto-capriccioso, premiered with Dubois’s wife, Jeanne Duvinage, at the keyboard in 1876. It is very much a French Konzertstück, though with an extremely abbreviated slow section, and an attractive, lengthy introduction for piano solo. The subsequent orchestral writing makes effective use of winds in various groups, but the piece as a whole fails to cohere. It is a collection of many ideas, some of them moderately interesting, and recalling Schumann’s manner if without his finer inspiration. There is no substantive development or transformation of Dubois’s material, just a restatement of content with perfunctory bridges.
The Piano Concerto No. 2 was composed just over two decades later, in 1897. It shares with its earlier discmate a love for opening movements filled with a plethora of unrelated themes, but in all other respects is a notable improvement. Development is more cogent, and the themes themselves have greater character (notably so, the first to appear on the piano in the opening movement, slightly reminiscent of Franck). The work is in the tradition of the Concerto Symphonique rather than the virtuosic concerto, with the orchestra a coequal rather than an accompanist. Its faults are a tendency to diffuseness in that opening movement, and bridge material that is still at times perfunctory, letting matters progress by fits and starts. The best movement is the least ambitious. While I find the ensuing Adagio bland in its quasi-religious clichés (aside from one harmonic progression towards its conclusion that was used repeatedly a decade earlier by Fauré), and the Finale spends too much time in a lengthy cadenza recapitulating earlier themes, the brief Scherzo is witty enough to give Litolff a run for his money.
The Suite for Piano and String Orchestra was finished in 1917. Judging from Dubois’s own comments at the time, only its light tone kept it from a more substantial title. With its quixotic juxtaposition of musical styles and ever-shifting moods, it is easily the best thing on the album and, despite those abrupt shifts, develops the most logically constructed movements. The sly Scherzo is again a standout, though the opening moderato and Finale both demonstrate a refreshingly tongue-in-cheek humor.
The performances are assured and well-balanced. Cédric Tiberghien’s sense of color and crystalline touch are welcome, though I could wish at times for more bravado and flexible phrasing from the ensemble—certainly in the Second Piano Concerto. But for elegance and integration, this kind of performance couldn’t be bettered.
Concerto for Piano no 2by Théodore Dubois Performer:
Cédric Tiberghien (Piano)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic Written: 1897
Suite for Piano and Strings in F minorby Théodore Dubois Performer:
Cédric Tiberghien (Piano)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic Written: 1917
Average Customer Review: ( 2 Customer Reviews )
Hyperion On A Roll!September 27, 2014By Henry S. (Springfield, VA)See All My Reviews"Volume 60 in Hyperion's superb Romantic Piano Concerto series is another winner by any standard. French composer Theodore Dubois may be relatively unknown today, but his works deserve more attention, if this recording is any indication. Pianist Cedric Tiberghien plays Dubois' Concerto-capriccioso, 2nd Piano Concerto, and Suite in F Minor for Piano and Orchestra with flair and brilliant technique. The accompanying orchestra is the always reliable BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Andrew Manze, and together with Tiberghien's magnificent performance, the result is a high spirited late Romantic concert of moderate intensity, superb artistry, and overall sustained excellence. Kudos to Hyperion (again). Strong recommendation on this one."Report Abuse
Simply Outstanding!!July 24, 2013By W. Brown (Centerburg, OH)See All My Reviews"This is simply fantastic piano playing. Cedric Tiberghien sounds like he is right in front of you giving a personal recital. Hats off to the recording engineers. Also featured is Andrew Manze conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. The Hyperian label has really done a fine job with their Romantic Piano Concerto Series. This disc is highly recommended!!"Report Abuse