SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

CHABRIER: Orchestral Works = Joyeuse Marche; Overture to “Gwendoline”; Habanera; España; Lamento; Bourrée fantasque; Suite pastorale; Three movements from “L’Étoile”; Two movements from “Le Roi malgré lui” – Orch. de la Suisse Romande/ Neeme Järvi – Chandos

This is where I’ll turn now on when I want to hear Chabrier’s lively orchestral music.

Published on July 19, 2013

CHABRIER: Orchestral Works = Joyeuse Marche; Overture to “Gwendoline”; Habanera; España; Lamento; Bourrée fantasque; Suite pastorale; Three movements from “L’Étoile”; Two movements from “Le Roi malgré lui” – Orch. de la Suisse Romande/ Neeme Järvi – Chandos multichannel SACD CHSA 5122 [Distr. by Naxos], 78:12 (3/26/13) *****:

Like all well-behaved French composers of the nineteenth century, Emmanuel Chabrier wrote operas—quite successfully, as it turns out. But outside of France at least, today he’s mostly known for his charming and colorful short orchestral works, including the beloved España, one of those pieces that makes you almost think French composers outdid Spanish ones at their own game. Well, here is España in the company of other orchestral scores, some very well known, some not at all. The inclusion of these Chabrier also-rans (Habanera and Lamento) make this well-filled disc especially valuable, but the heady performances and gorgeous SACD surround sound make it just about indispensible, even if you have legions of other recordings of this music in your collection.

Orchestral excerpts from three of Chabrier’s operas are included, and while the Gwendoline Overture and the pieces from Le Roi malgré lui are thrice-familiar, the excerpts from what is probably Chabrier’s finest opera, L’Étoile, are not—another boon. However, nice as they are to have, it must be said they’re less original and memorable than those bits from the other operas.

Among the other works are orchestrations of piano pieces, another area of Chabrier’s output that should get more attention than it does. Joyeuse marche is an orchestration by the composer of a work originally written for piano four hands, while the Suite pastorale is taken from Chabrier’s Dix Pièces pittoresques for piano. Of the transcriptions here, only Bourée fantasque was undertaken by hands other than Chabrier’s. But conductor-composer Felix Mottl’s orchestration is so skillfully and tastefully done that Chabrier himself would surely have given his blessings to the result.

There’s variety in these short pieces—from the grippingly dramatic Gwendoline Overture (which seems to have both post-echoes of Lalo and pre-echoes of Dukas) to the charming naïveté of Suite pastorale, so different from the hearty extroversion of just about every other work on this program (with the exception of the two rarely heard pieces, Habanera and Lamento). For the most part, however, Chabrier’s orchestral music is so full of life-affirming high spirits that it gladdens the heart, even when the heart has experienced an otherwise lousy day. Note to self: have Chabrier on the ready at the end of such days.

And if I want to get the Chabrier treatment in future, I’ll probably turn from now on to Neeme Järvi and Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. Järvi has come in for critical lumps over the years, but he’s recorded the music of so many composers in his long career, the wonder is not that he’s received some brickbats now and again but that he’s often done full justice to composers of very different cultural backgrounds. True, he sometimes has a tendency to rush things, glossing over details, but at his best, as in the present recording, Järvi brings both sympathy and solid podium technique to bear on his interpretations. Then there’s his band, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. I recall that in the latter days of Ernest Ansermet’s long directorship of this orchestra he founded, it had started to sound somewhat seedy. But recent recordings from PentaTone and now Chandos reveal that the orchestra’s a class act once more, with exactly the right sound for French masters like Chabrier, Franck, and Chausson (and even that beefy Austrian Anton Bruckner, if the critics are right about Marek Janowski’s series for PentaTone).

As I’ve noted above, the icing on this rather lovely confection is the superb surround sound provided by Chandos. It has all the impact, depth, and presence I’ve come to expect from the best SACD productions. I’m pretty sure that if you invest in this collection, it will be your favorite way to hear Chabrier from now on.

—Lee Passarella

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