Edward Seckerson and Stephen Johnson compare notes on...; Emmanuel Chabrier: Orchestral Music Vienna Philharmonic / John Eliot Gardiner (DG 447 751-2)
Friday 30 August 1996
Wine, women, song - Chabrier found his in Spain (cue the sultry Habanera) - we know where the VPO found theirs. This is gorgeously homespun playing. Prelude pastoral - a verdant little treat - has enjoyed a number of repeats already. Likewise, the scrumptious Larghetto for horn and orchestra. Ronald Janezic (the VPO's mellifluous principal) plays it like New Year's Day has come early this year - head in the clouds, perchance-to-dream. But how far removed that is from the world of Gwendoline, a heroic opera set on the east coast of Britain in the eighth century AD. A likely tale, you'll be thinking, on hearing the overture. Chabrier, the light-fingered miniaturist, assumes Wagnerian pretensions with this one (small wonder - he was a fervent propagandist for the great man). The stylistic cribbing is as blatant as it is shameless, Tristan chords haunting a coda of breathtaking pomposity in which some corny Parisian street-song mistakenly imagines it's the Pilgrims' Chorus from Tannhauser. Bliss. ES
I have always liked the idea of Emmanuel Chabrier. He may not have been immune to Wagner fever (how many late-19th century French composers were?), but there were signs of healthy scepticism. Visiting Wagner's house at Bayreuth, Chabrier was underwhelmed by his treatment (Cosima lectured him at length on her husband's greatness), and apparently disposed of an unwanted prune tart by hiding it in a draw full of the Master's silk underwear.
That story sits happily with the musical content of this disc. There is one example of what Gustav Holst called "good, old-fashioned Wagnerian bawling" in the overture to the opera Gwendoline. But two years later comes the Prelude pastoral, in which echoes of Wagner's Siegfried Idyll (and even a hint of Tristan) blend with sharper-tasting Gallic folk strains - a delicious sweet-and-sour mixture. Then comes total release in the Prelude's companion-piece, the riotous Marche francaise. It was an excellent idea to put these three pieces in chronological sequence and let them tell their story this way.
The rest of the programme? I have to confess to a resistance to Espana - over-exposure in youth orchestra days, perhaps. But the Larghetto for horn and orchestra is a lovely, atmospheric miniature, while the Suite pastorale is the Chabrier I love best: sophistication and childlike simplicity combined, delicate orchestration and haunting tunes.
John Eliot Gardiner, the "Toscanini of the period-instrument movement", may not have been the obvious choice for music like this, and yet his affection for Chabrier is evident from the start. Fascinating to hear how the Vienna Philharmonic approach it, too; Chabrier's evocation of childhood in the Suite sounds surprisingly close to Mahler in places. But it's hard to feel anything other than delight in the Larghetto or that wicked Marche francaise. Even the Vienna Musikverein acoustic sounds as if it enjoyed the change. SJ
Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Rihanna's Met Gala dress took one Chinese woman 2 years to make, was reduced to omelette meme in 2 seconds
- 2 Qataris pledge to expand Canary Wharf
- 3 #JeSuisEd: People share photos of themselves eating awkwardly in solidarity with Labour leader
- 4 Women think Irish men are the sexiest, survey finds
- 5 Florida couple forced to register as sex offenders for having sex on public beach
Penny Dreadful, series 2 episode 1, review: It is still gloriously silly
Top Gear: Jodie Kidd, Philip Glenister and Guy Martin 'in advanced talks' to replace Jeremy Clarkson and co
Eurovision 2015: What date and time is the song contest and who are the favourites to win?
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
Indiana Jones sequel confirmed by Lucasfilm - but will Harrison Ford return to the franchise?
In defence of liberal democracy
General Election 2015: Post-election 'shambles' looms as 70 per cent of voters say SNP 'should not be able to veto UK government policies'
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
General election live: SNP suspends two members for disrupting Labour rally
General election live: Booths open at 7am across the country on polling day