Classical Reissue Reviews

French Orchestral Music = CHAUSSON: Symphony in B flat; FAURE: Pelleas et Melisande Suite; HONEGGER: Rugby; Pacific 231; Pastorale d’Ete – Radio Philharmonic Orchestra Netherlands/Jean Fournet – Regis

A defining disc of great French music with spacious sound and performances by the underrated conductor Jean Fournet.

Published on January 31, 2011

French Orchestral Music = CHAUSSON: Symphony in B flat;  FAURE: Pelleas et Melisande Suite; HONEGGER: Rugby; Pacific 231; Pastorale d’Ete – Radio Philharmonic Orchestra Netherlands/Jean Fournet – Regis

French Orchestral Music = CHAUSSON: Symphony in B flat;  FAURE: Pelleas et Melisande Suite; HONEGGER: Rugby; Pacific 231; Pastorale d’Ete – Radio Philharmonic Orchestra Netherlands/Jean Fournet – Regis RRC 1328, 75:00 [Distr. by Qualiton] *****:

In my early record collecting days, I bought a recording of Franck’s complete Psyche conducted by Jean Fournet (1913–2008). I still have that LP because of this underrated conductor’s passionate and sensuous interpretation of Franck’s last work. When he made this recording, issued by Denon in 1990, he was 77, and at the peak of his powers. His experience in playing and recording the French orchestral repertoire shines in this exquisite recording of French works.

Ernest Chausson (1855-1899) was 24 years old before he decided to ignore his law degree and become a composer. Hearing Wagner, whose music he couldn’t completely escape, was the deciding factor. He studied with Franck, and his music has much of the rich, sensuous, melodically pregnant characteristics of his mentor. He, in turn, mentored Debussy, who once commented to him, “You are somewhat like a big older brother in whom one has complete confidence, and from whom one even accepts an occasional scolding.” Chausson died at the early age of 44 when a bicycle he was riding went out of control, hitting a wall and killing him instantly. Of his compositions, the Symphony in B flat is one of his best, although it is rarely performed live. Modeled somewhat on Franck’s well worn Symphony in d minor, Chausson’s is in three movements and is cyclically thematic (using similar themes in multiple movements as an organizational device), like his mentor. But the scoring is more colorful, with added shape and discipline. Fournet lingers over the sensuous, Romantic content of this underrated work; the climaxes are deeply felt and powerful, and the deep, wide soundstage allows them to fully breathe. The second movement’s sadness is sensitively expressed, yet the erotic chromaticism is made clear, a debt to Wagner. The finale brings excitement, and the ending is nothing less than spiritually transcendent. This is a great performance, and we are indebted to Regis to reissuing it.

The excerpts from Faure’s Pelleas and Melisande Suite is just as fine. Faure was mentored by Saint Saens and his music was the essence of French refinement: “melodic inevitability, taste, unerring judgement, impeccable musicianship and ..graceful application of tone color,” states Harold Schonberg in his tome, The Lives of Great Composers. Fournet understands these defining characteristics in these excerpts from one of Faure’s few large orchestral works. A highlight is the lovingly sensitive love music, Sicilienne.

Two of Honegger’s Movement Symphoniques – Pacific 231 (1923) and Rugby – are tone poems that musically express the visual and energetic spectacle of a train and the “offensive tactics, rhythm and coloration of a rugby match.” The spectacular recording clearly conveys the power and volume of these often raucous works. The disc concludes with Honegger’s lovely tone poem, Pastorale d”Ete, a poem to the unity of man with nature. Don’t miss this fantastic disc!

– Robert Moon




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