REBER Symphony No. 4 in G, op. 33. BERLIOZ Rêverie and Caprice, op.8. LISZT Concerto No. 1 in E?, S124 • Jérémie Rhorer, cond; Le Cercle de L’Harmonie; Julien Chauvin (vn); Bertrand Chamayou (pn) • NAIVE AM 207 (55:00) Live: Metz 10/16/2011
This utterly joyous and captivating CD bringsRead more to life the Paris concert world of about 1850. Le Cercle de L’Harmonie is a large and virtuosic period instrument ensemble, which plays in grand style with glorious horns, and few of the annoyances of the genre. The program features music by composers who knew and worked with each other. The world premiere of Napoléon-Henri Reber’s Fourth Symphony is the attention-getting item here. It is a magnificent discovery.
Imagine, if you will, a late Haydn Symphony composed by Berlioz, with hints of Rossini, and touched up by Schumann, and you will be close to what this symphony sounds like. French orchestral music written between the Symphonie fantastique of 1830 and Bizet’s Symphony in C, composed in 1855, tends to be something of a “black hole.” We know of Méhul, of course, but are seldom impressed....and perhaps we conclude that French music had little to say in the Mendelssohn era. We would be wrong.
Reber wrote four very popular symphonies, and one immediately understands why. He never bores the listener. Not for a second! The piece begins like Rossini in media res, already on his way to one of his famous crescendos. This is immensely clever music which jumps about and whoops for joy like Berlioz, but in the most witty Haydn manner, utterly logical yet harmonically and rhythmically alive moment for moment—and with better bass writing than Berlioz!
The usual curse of the second-rate composer is a good melody followed by nothing interesting to be done with it. One ends up with too many “sequences” or patterns, infinitely predictable and dutifully withstood until the next good melodic moment. Reber avoids all of this, as he does the other major indicator of mediocrity: the tendency to copy rather than paraphrase. A composer like Stanford does his reputation no good by cribbing codas from Beethoven. But Reber achieves a personal synthesis from the many influences around him without ever seeming to be somebody else. Copland and Bernstein managed this, if we look for a modern example. Their music is utterly alike, yet completely individual. The Reber Fourth Symphony not only proceeds as Haydn might through the influence of Berlioz, but features a Beethoven-like variation slow movement of great originality, whose quieter moments are moving and Haydn quartet-like, but which manages a touch of “Eroica” grandeur in its more imposing variations. The movement concludes with a tremolando crescendo straight out of Rimsky-Korsakov’s second movement ending to Scheherazade! The Scherzo’s general demeanor comes from Schubert, and the finale brings us back to Haydn and Beethoven, with a fugato theme of great vigor. By the time the movement ends, with a deliberately hilarious set of false cadential chords, the listener is just about ready to jump out of his skin for joy! This is wonderful, life-affirming music.
The rest of the program is hardly less charming. Berlioz’s Rêverie and Caprice is played largely without vibrato, though one notes, not entirely so. Indeed, the experience of listening to it convinced me that any attempt to eliminate vibrato entirely would be unnatural. Dollars to doughnuts, there was surely always some such expression used. Julien Chauvin has all the right intuitions here. And finally, I have learned at last to like the Liszt First Piano Concerto, which usually strikes me as empty and bloated in modern garb. The piano here is an Érard instrument from the era in question, less massive and more crystalline in its sonority than later pianos. The original instrument sounds of the orchestra fit perfectly into the greater delicacy here, and the piece emerges substantive and, if you can believe it, refined...Bertrand Chamayou is very much on the same page as the conductor.
A last comment about early-music ensembles. One listens to Roger Norrington, I find, and frequently says to oneself: “It simply cannot have sounded like this. Who would have wanted to listen to it this way....?” But play this CD, experience Le Cercle de L’Harmonie’s manner with tuning, heft, and sonority, and you find yourself saying “Of Course! This is what it must have sounded like!” And so the reviewer’s advice is very simple. Buy this CD, learn a new piece, visit virtual history and get happy!