Faure himself thought that the heroine of his opera Penelope would have spoken in what he apparently called ‘un beau medium’. The writer of the liner note accompanying this 1995 issue, Edward Blakeman, goes further and suggests that the phrase would be a suitable description of Faure’s own musical idiom generally, and that seems to me a very fair opinion. This collection gives us well over an hour’s worth of Faure’s orchestral compositions. The famous Pavane is performed in the version without chorus (thank goodness), the orchestration of the Dolly suite was not done by Faure himself but by a colleague and the other works are all arrangements (although by Faure) of music that started life in simpler settings. Arrangements give just as valid an idea of Faure the orchestral composer as original compositions for orchestra do, in my own opinion, but if anyone is inclined to dispute this view our collection here provides a very welcome and very out-of-the-way work for symphony orchestra, the prelude to Faure’s rarely performed opera, title as above. Faure slightly adapted this prelude to make it available as a freestanding work for orchestra. I wonder how many concertgoers these days know that Wagner did the same with the prelude to Tristan. I am not sure I have ever actually heard the latter. All they play nowadays is the Prelude’n’Liebestod monstrosity, but Faure’s prelude, together with the opera it is meant to introduce, escapes the danger of any such fate by hardly ever being performed at all.
There are three smallish concertante works here, all performed more or less ideally. The biggest, and probably best-known, is the Ballade with piano solo. This, they tell me, is a lot more difficult than it sounds, and that is something I can well believe because it is true of much of Faure’s piano output generally. Kathryn Stott suits me down to the ground as a performer of Faure, a composer in whose work she specialises. However I want to make honourable mention also of the cellist Peter Dixon and the flautist Richard Davis for their sensitive and idiomatic work in their smaller pieces. Behind all of them of course is the maestro himself, Yan Pascal Tortelier whose instinct for the music he is performing is absolute. The BBC Philharmonic respond beautifully, and among them they know how to convey the different feel of the pensive Penelope prelude from everything else on the disc.
The recording is a model of tact, which is what one wants in Faure. The liner note is a little above average too, but I can’t for the life of me understand why in the short quotation from the composer at the start Faure’s perfectly simple reference to ‘le style’ that he most responds to is translated into English as ‘methods’ and German as ‘Methoden’. Methods are not the same thing as style, nor anything like the same thing. Do the translators know some special reason for subjecting Faure’s straightforward-seeming remark to what reads like just a gratuitous and perverse mistranslation? I’ll stick with ‘style’, and I imagine many will.
Methods and style notwithstanding, this is a really admirable disc offering a valuable snapshot of an elusive and fascinating composer. ‘Le style en est simple, correct, précis...’ which is exactly what suited the composer as he tells us himself, and it should suit most of the rest of us.