PHILIPPE GAUBERT: Le Chevalier et la Damoiselle – Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg/ Marc Soustrot – Timpani multichannel SACD 1C1175, 73:20 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
My only previous encounter with the music of once-famous flutist and composer Philippe Gaubert (1879-1941) came on an all-flute-and-piano recording presented via the MSR label.
My less-than-four-star rating—just barely—was mostly due to some of the rather rugged sound in spots, though I admitted that this combination can give the engineers fits. No such issues exist here, and not surprisingly, as the Timpani label is usually right on target in their surround sound releases, and when you add the exceptionally warm and vibrant playing of the Luxembourg Philharmonic—one of my favorites in that part of the world—the results can be pure ear candy.
I was a little surprised to see that Gaubert had written such an extended piece. Though he was Principal conductor of the Paris Opéra and Principal conductor of the Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire, meaning he definitely was familiar with large-scale works, I did not know of the existence of this one and a quarter hour ballet based on the story of a young woman in Burgundy in the Middle Ages, a princess who has had a spell cast on her so that every night she turns into a doe, and only regains human form in the evening. Only when she meets a man who will make her know suffering will she be released from the curse.
As might be guessed, there are lots of hints of nascent medievalism in this score, to wonderful effect. Gaubert’s opus, the last thing he ever did and considered by many to be his masterpiece, is a remarkable work that ties color, dance ability, and foot-stomping rhythms into the listener while regaling him or her with some truly luscious melodies. The composer knew it to be a winner, and it turned out so, though the stress of having his beloved homeland occupied by the Germans (this was written in 1941) took its toll—he died of a massive stroke, the picture of good health, only three days after the premiere.
This is the world premiere recording of the complete ballet (excerpts and suites can be had elsewhere) and I can’t imagine that Gaubert would be anything less than thrilled with the results. The passion, color, and amazingly vibrant hi-res sound are all presented in a superb and spatial surround sound recording of great presence, played to perfection. If you are someone looking for something out of the way like a forgotten masterwork, you have just struck gold.