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Prokofiev: Chout - Histoire d'un Bouffon qui a roulè sept autres bouffons, Op. 21
Prokofiev: Chout - Histoire d'un Bouffon qui a roulè sept autres bouffons, Op. 21
Price: £12.13

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A vivid recording of this compelling work., 16 Jan. 2016
"Chout" (sometimes known as "The Buffoon") was the first ballet score that Prokofiev completed for Diaghilev. ("Alla and Lolli" had been rejected and was never performed though Prokofiev salvaged some of the music for the "Scythian" Suite.) It was originally composed in 1915 but five years later Prokofiev added links between the various numbers so as to transform it into a single continuous work. The first performance was given by the Ballet Russes in 1921. Depending on which Wikipedia article you read it was either "fairly well received" or "a huge success". Certainly Stravinsky was impressed, calling it "the single piece of modern music he could listen to with pleasure". Ravel thought "Chout" was a "work of genius".

The ballet tells the story of seven buffoons who all murder their wives. An eighth claims to be able to restore them to life using a magic whip. He fails, however, and the other buffoons seek revenge. He disguises himself as a woman but is chosen for marriage by a rich merchant. He manages to escape having swindled the merchant out of 300 roubles.

"Chout" is a criminally neglected work. Not a note of it has ever been heard at the London Proms for example. This recording, made in 1985, was the first recording of the complete ballet. (A much shorter suite had been recorded previously.) The story gave Prokofiev plenty of scope to exercise his extraordinary musical imagination; "Chout" is full of colour, fantasy and grotesquerie. It could not be by any other composer. Tempi are predominantly fast and there really is never a dull moment. The music is also enormously rich in recurring melodies, sometimes chromatic, sometimes diatonic and sometimes veering from one to the other. "Chout" can almost be regarded as a gigantic symphonic poem; the music is more than strong enough to stand by itself. Don't be put off by the rather pointillist opening. By the end you will feel invigorated (there is a riveting accelerando conclusion) and, perhaps, a little battered. You will feel, as you do after so many scores by Richard Strauss, astonished at the self-belief of the man who wrote it all down. You will also want to hear it all again.

This is a superb performance. The sound, as you would expect from a Melodiya recording of this vintage, is a little raw (the brass certainly make their presence felt!) but appropriately so. Don't miss "Chout". It is one of the most compelling of twentieth century ballets.


Sergej Prokofiev: Sur le Borysthène; Seymon Kotko Suite; Lieutenant Kijé Suite
Sergej Prokofiev: Sur le Borysthène; Seymon Kotko Suite; Lieutenant Kijé Suite
Price: £28.44

4.0 out of 5 stars "Sur le Borysthene" ( "On the Dnieper" ) is not the best of Prokofiev but "Semyon Kotko" is well worth getting to know, 5 Jan. 2016
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"On the Dnieper" ( known in France as "Sur la Borysthene") was the fourth of Prokofiev's seven ballets and dates from 1930. It was followed, in 1935, by "Romeo and Juliet", quite definitely the greatest full-length ballet score of the twentieth century or even, many would argue, of all time. Don't expect the forty minute "On the Dnieper" to be of a similar standard. Serge Lifar, who was responsible for the ballet's setting and choreography, said he was disappointed with the music and the work failed at its premiere in Paris in 1932. Although the most lyrical pages of "Romeo and Juliet" are prefigured at times, notably in the "Betrothal" music at the beginning of the Second Tableau, much of the music is self-consciously "progressive" in its rather aimless chromaticism. There is also a lack of that characteristic Prokofievian sense of fantasy. Frankly, some of the music is rather dreary. The livelier numbers are the most successful, the "Variation du premier danseur et finale" from the Premier Tableau and the "Danse du Fiance" from the Second Tableau in particular. There is, though, a feeling that the composer's heart is not in what he is doing and that he would prefer to be writing those unforgettable diatonic tunes, albeit spiced up with added-note harmonies, which fill every minute of the great ballet to come....

....and that, of course, is what he also did in his 1934 music for the film "Lieutenant Kije". This was composed on Prokofiev's return to his homeland and was deliberately written in a more accessible style. It has always been one of his most popular works. An unusual feature of this recording is that, as well as being given in their familiar versions for orchestra alone, the Romance and the Troika are also heard as songs featuring a solo baritone. Boris Stasenko does a fine job though he has some tuning problems when replacing a saxophone in the Troika. Otherwise, "Lieutenant Kije" is given a superb performance, beautifully recorded.

"Semyon Kotko", Prokofiev's seventh opera and one of two he wrote on a Soviet theme, was moderately well received at its premiere in Moscow 1940. As he had done so many times before, the composer produced a concert suite of music extracted from the opera. As you would expect, much of the music is diatonically tuneful and, in general, it is far easier to assimilate than that of "Sur le Borysthene". "The Southern Night" is a particularly attractive piece, in Prokofiev's most lyrical vein, and, later on, there is also much music in the composer's fantastical and grotesque styles. All-in-all, although it may not be the very best of Prokofiev, "Semyon Kotko" is well worth getting to know. The suite follows the action of the opera. As a result, the first four pieces are not well contrasted so for home listening it may be a good idea to reorder the various numbers....but keep the last two where they are!

Excellent performances and a suitably vivid recording make this pair of discs highly recommendable though, if you can do without "Sur la Borysthene" and already have a recording of "Lieutenant Kije", you will probably be able to find a more economical way of collecting the "Semyon Kotko" suite.


Merikanto/Prokofiev - Orchestral Works
Merikanto/Prokofiev - Orchestral Works
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £23.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Fine performances of Prokofiev's splendid "Sinfonia Concertante" and Merikanto's Delian concerto., 30 Dec. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
The novelty on this disc is Aare Merikanto's Second 'Cello Concerto. It was one of his last works, written at a time when the composer had adopted, according to the notes which come with this disc, a "more conformist and conciliatory style" after so many of his earlier works had been rejected because of what was regarded as excessive modernism. Even so, although the concerto had been completed in 1941 (and revised in 1944), it had to wait until 1949 for its first performance.

The sound world this concerto inhabits will immediately remind you of the English Romantics, and Delius in particular. ( With respect to my fellow reviewer on the American version of this site, I hear very little evidence of Dvorak's influence.) The music's motivic concentration allied to an uninterrupted lyrical flow is a feature of Delius's string concertos....the great Violin Concerto especially. Merikanto said that he was "not a constructivist composer in any shape or form.... completely improvisatory" and there is a seamlessness to this music, then, which makes it quite difficult to grasp, in spite of its unadventurous syntax.

In fact, in spite of what the composer said, the first movement of this concerto does contain the outline of a type of ternary form....closest to an arch structure. A striking unison opening on the orchestral strings ushers in the soloist who, a few short tutti passages apart, now plays almost without pause for the remainder of the movement. The most important subsidiary structural signpost is the sighing motif, in reality derived from the principal motif, first heard on a solo violin at 52 secs. Unfortunately, Merikanto is unable to sustain what has so far been a very high level of invention and the middle section, which begins after a short tutti, comes close to aimlessness. The music gradually refocusses, however, until, at 7 mins 57 secs, the solo violin restates its variant. At 8 mins 44 secs the soloist brings back the movement's opening idea.

If the first movement is not consistently inspired, the same cannot be said of the slow movement and the finale both of which are superbly sustained and completely convincing. The soloist again plays almost all the time, from time to time alighting on a salient phrase or melody which is now incorporated into the texture. This is music which does not give up its secrets easily and may seem featureless at first but, if you persevere, you will begin to appreciate its quality.

Prokofiev's Sinfonia Concertante for 'cello and orchestra is one of the best of his later works. It is a drastic revison of an earlier 'cello concerto. Although it is a little loosely constructed and somewhat inconsistent stylistically the Sinfonia Concertante is full of fantasy and melody and, in the second and third movements, those characteristic motoric rhythms which make this composer's music so compelling. In academic circles, Prokofiev's music is often disparaged. My professor used to tell the story of how the composer would finish a piece and then go through it again, "putting in the wrong notes". Yet Prokofiev remains probably the most popular of twentieth century Classical composers and practically the only one who wrote tunes that everybody knows. With neo-Romanticism now in vogue, he deserves to regain the respect he should never have lost.

The Sinfonia Concertante has been recorded many times and this version ranks with the best though it cannot compete in intensity with Rostropovich's recordings, in particular that composite performance last seen on a HMV double CD called "Rostropovich...the Russian Years". Merikanto's concerto is superbly done. The recording is excellent so this disc deserves an enthusiastic recommendation.


Massenet: Sapho
Massenet: Sapho
Price: £43.30

5.0 out of 5 stars The best recording of this attractive, though sentimental opera.... but read the last paragraph., 21 Dec. 2015
This review is from: Massenet: Sapho (Audio CD)
In the following I draw upon my reviews of the recordings of this opera conducted by Bernard Keefe and Roger Boutry:

"Sapho", the 13th of Massenet's 25 operas, dates from 1892 although it was not performed in its complete form until 1909. The opera, based on a novel by Alphonse Daudet, tells the story of Fanny Legrand, a painter's model, who falls for a simple country boy (Jean, of course). She, however, has something of a chequered past of which he is unaware. When he discovers that Fanny, is, in fact, known professionally as Sapho, that she modelled nude for Caoudal's sculpture and even had a child by a notorious forger who is now imprisoned, he rejects her. Fanny's love for Jean, seems, for once, genuine, however. Eventually Jean forgives her but, as he sleeps, Fanny, aware of her duty to her little son, steals into the night. Ultimately, then, both Jean and Fanny are sympathetic figures although there remains a lingering suspicion that Fanny may one day return to her old ways. As Caoudal commented when she first showed an interest in Jean, "Toujours Sapho!" In these circumstances, any self-respecting operatic heroine would commit suicide, of course, and, had she done so, perhaps Fanny could have been viewed as a truly tragic figure and the opera's tendency towards excessive sentimentality would have been avoided.

(In another adaptation by the Broadway playwright, Clyde Fitch, "Sapho" caused such a sensation that prosecutions on
grounds of obscenity were brought. They failed and American society's attitude regarding public depictions of sex
began to change.)

Massenet was a famously commercial composer and his operas often show the influence of popular successes of the time. In "Sapho" there are many parallels dramatically, musically and in terms of character development with certain Verdi operas. The first act, for example, during which Sapho first lays eyes on Jean at a party, is reminiscent of the opening of "La Traviata" and there are also clear musical parallels, the use of an offstage band being one, with the opening of "Rigoletto". Massenet's own previous successes are also recalled, "Werther" and "Manon" in particular. Irene, the orphan girl and niece whom Jean's parents adopt, is another Sophie and Jean's aria in Act 1, "Ah! Qu'il est loin mon pays", in which he remembers his native Provence, is reminiscent of Des Grieux's "En fermant les yeux". Yet, "Sapho" does not lack freshness. Jean's aria is scarcely inferior to Des Grieux's and, inAdeed, the music of Acts 1 and 2 is consistently inspired. Once, in Act 3, Jean learns Fanny's true nature, however, Massenet has less scope for his own particular brand of tender lyricism. It is the same problem that Puccini has in "Madame Butterfly" when Pinkerton leaves. However, there are still several fine passages, notably the duet for Jean and Divonne, his mother, and Fanny's aria "Pendant un an je fus ta femme". Once Jean returns to Fanny in the final act, Massenet is back on form though the final melody, given at first to a solo violin, is not one of his best.

Of the three recordings of "Sapho" currently available on Amazon, Tingaud's is the most recommendable. Although there are no native French singers in the cast, the only weak link is the rather poorly focussed Caoudal of Luca Salsi. Piunti is alive to every facet of Fanny's character and, unlike Renee Doria on Boutry's recording, she has no problems with voice production. Jovanovich makes an ardent Jean though it is Alexander Oliver's light tenor on Bernard Keefe's recording which most convincingly suggests the character's youthfulness. Unfortunately, Keefe's version is difficult to recommend because of a noisy "surface". ( It sounds as though it been transferred directly from LPs.) Tingaud's conducting is much the most imaginative on disc.

This recording is taken from six performances given at the Wexford Festival in 2001. The sound quality is very good although, for one of Massenet's more intimate operas, a studio recording would be preferable. The only serious issue is that the off (or on) stage band in Act 1 is almost inaudible; it is drowned by the noise of the party-goers. I should add that, if you look online you will find another recording of this production on which this problem is not evident. Although all you will get is two discs with one track on each and no documentation at all, it will only cost you a few pounds. In fact, the only commercially released version of "Sapho" which includes a worthwhile booklet is Tingaud's....and even that does not contain a libretto.


Pfitzner: Romantic Cello Vol. 4 [Alban Gerhardt, Sebastian Weigle] [Hyperion: CDA67906]
Pfitzner: Romantic Cello Vol. 4 [Alban Gerhardt, Sebastian Weigle] [Hyperion: CDA67906]
Price: £9.67

4.0 out of 5 stars Some enjoyable music though not consistently inspired. Get to know the Violin Concerto first!, 4 Dec. 2015
Pfitzner's Cello Concerto in A minor dates from 1888, when the composer was a student at the Frankfurt Conservatory, but
it had to wait until 1977 before receiving its first public performance. Like all of Pfitzner's concertos it is unusually
constructed. The first of its two sections is a sonata structure with an introduction. The main allegro theme is a fine,
virile melody, mostly in octaves, which Pfitzner used again in his last 'cello concerto, also in A minor. The 1888
concerto's first movement's development section is largely, but not exclusively, based on a perky variant of the main
theme. Unusually, the soloist is silent during the recapitulation until the arrival of the second theme.

The second section, on the whole not as impressive as the first, begins with a long stretch of slow music. It is not
particularly well defined melodically but the recurrence of a memorable 7 note phrase helps to give the music a sense of
shape. This is a ternary structure. Suddenly the tempo picks up and rushing tremelando strings and fragments of woodwind
melody reintroduce the main theme of the first movement. The last part of the concerto consists of reminiscences of now
familiar material, a device much loved by composers of 'cello concertos, of course. All-in-all, the best reason for
getting to know this concerto is to hear that indelible tune.

Pfitzner's other A minor 'cello concerto dates from 1943. Although in four movements, it only lasts 18 minutes. The first
movement is thematically strong. Among the string of melodies the one from the 1888 concerto is first heard,
rather unexpectedly, at 2 mins 16 secs. There is little attempt to develop the material but the music's lyrical flow is
adequate compensation. Towards the end there is an unusual duet for the 'cello and a clarinet. The second movement is a
3 minute scherzo. It is immediately attractive and you may feel it is the concerto's highlight, just as the scherzo is the
best movement in Pfitzner's Piano Concerto. The equally short slow movement does not make much of an impression, although
your ear may be caught by the low-lying and very active bass line, a feature, in fact, of much of the music on this disc.
Pfitzner is back on form for the finale. This movement is dominated by its main theme but, at 3 mins 21 secs, and, to be
frank, with little musical justification, Pfitzner returns for one last time to his favourite tune.

The G major concerto, which dates from 1935, is even shorter, lasting for less than 15 minutes. It is more fluidly
constructed than the other concertos and may be regarded as being in one movement. Inhabiting a consistently warmer
and more fantastical sound world, it is immediately attractive. Thematically the concerto is dominated by its warm-hearted
opening melody whose contours and rhythms provide the basis for much of the ensuing music.

I got to know the Duo for Violin, 'Cello and orchestra from a recording on the CPO label where it is played by Sasha
Gawriloff and Julius Berger. This is a miniature concerto, though the slow movement is hardly more than an
interlude. The Duo is melodically well-defined, puposeful and tautly written. It is the best and most consistently
inspired piece on the Hyperion disc. Of the two performances, the fleeter version on Hyperion is preferable.

All this music is very well played and recorded. I should add, though, that the finest of Pfitzner's concertos is
definitely the one for violin, Op.34. Although it is not an easy work to get to grips with, do not form an opinion of
Pfitzner's stature as a composer of concertante music until you do.


Eugen d'Albert: String Quartets Op. 7 & Op. 11
Eugen d'Albert: String Quartets Op. 7 & Op. 11
Offered by skyvo-direct
Price: £5.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Two Masterly Quartets., 21 Nov. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Eugen D'Albert's string quartets date from early in his career and are derivative but extraordinarily accomplished works.
D'Albert, it seems, never really developed an individual style. Brahms, for example, is an obvious influence on both
quartets and the symphony which, like the First Quartet, dates from 1886 but the Second Piano Concerto, composed in 1893,
the year of the Second Quartet, could hardly be more Lisztian. The quality of this music, though, is not in doubt.
Both D'Albert's string quartets deserve to be much better known.

The First Quartet's opening movement is, as usual, a sonata structure. Once the second subject arrives, the main
influence, already apparent, comes into focus. The mellifluous melody, often harmonised in sixths, with a triplet
accompaniment could hardly be more Brahmsian. The repeat of the exposition is not taken in this performance. The
development is divided into two parts, the first built on a phrase from the first subject while the second features
an impressive contrapuntal treatment of the transitional material. The second subject is not developed but is referred
to in the coda, firstly at 8 mins 20 secs.

The fine F major slow movement is a ternary structure. A short introduction is followed by a lovely melody for the first
violin. The central section features a syncopated accompaniment to the main idea which is soon subjected to Beethovenian
elaboration. After a false D major start to the final section, F major is established at 6 mins 12 secs. Now the melody
is given an accompaniment derived from material from the central section. The movement ends with the same phrase with
which it began.

The A minor third movement is another straightforward ternary structure with an imitative central section in E major.
As always, you will be impressed by D'Albert's technique and his contrapuntal mastery in particular.

After these outstanding movements, the finale is a little disappointing. It is a set of variations on a Schubertian tune.
Textures are simpler, at least until the final variation. There is little that is really memorable although D'Albert
again doffs his hat to Brahms in, perhaps, the best variation, beginning at 5 mins 45 secs. All in all, though, this is
a masterly quartet.

The Second Quartet in Eb major also shows the influence of Brahms and, in fact, D'Albert dedicated it to him. In his
letter of acceptance, Brahms pointed out a similarity between the opening of the quartet and that of Beethoven's Quartet,
Op. 127 which is in the same key. (I wonder if D'Albert wrote back, "Any fool can see that!" Brahms would have deserved
it!)

The concise opening movement is unusual in that the development section is based exclusively on the first subject,
although the opening phrases of both subjects are related. The first subject is not formally brought back, the
recapitulation beginning with the arrival of the second subject in the tonic at 4 mins 56 secs. (This is occasionally
done. The opening movement of Dvorak's 'Cello Concerto is, perhaps, the most famous example.)

This time the scherzo comes second. Its textures, certainly in the outer sections, are very different to those of the
first movement and, with its pizzicato strings, alternating-note accompaniments and epigrammatic melodic writing it may
even remind you of Debussy's quartet which was also premiered in 1893. Mendelssohn, and not, for once, Brahms is a
more likely model, however. Whatever the influences, this movement does not sit well with the rest.

The slow movement is yet another ternary structure. It begins with a duet for the viola, playing the melody, and the
'cello. The yearning idea which follows forms an accompaniment to the return of the main melody on the first violin at
2 mins 53 secs. There is a declamatory central section.

The finale is almost monothematic, the opening homophonic statement and the subsequent 'cello idea belonging together.
The music is, as you would expect, thoroughly worked out. At the first performance of this quartet it had to be repeated
and Hanslick praised its "intellectual intensity".

Although they repay repeated listening, as all worthwhile music does, neither of these quartets is difficult to follow, at least in
outline, even at a first hearing. D'Albert always helps by changing the texture at important structural events. I should add, though,
that, when Boulez said that Debussy's Quartet freed chamber music from "rigid structure, frozen rhetoric and rigid aesthetics", he
could have been thinking of D'Alberts' works. They very much come at the end of an era.

The performances are excellent and the recording, made in an ample church acoustic, is very good. Now, at last reissued at
a sensible price, this disc should not be missed.


Sapho by J. Massenet
Sapho by J. Massenet
Offered by FHL Store
Price: £29.83

4.0 out of 5 stars An attractive opera. It's difficult to choose between Boutry and Keefe. Both have significant drawbacks., 13 Nov. 2015
This review is from: Sapho by J. Massenet (Audio CD)
"Sapho", the 13th of Massenet's 25 operas, dates from 1892 although it was not performed in its complete form until 1909.
The opera, based on a novel by Alphonse Daudet, tells the story of Fanny Legrand, a painter's model, who falls for a
simple country boy ("Jean", of course). She, however, has something of a chequered past of which he is unaware. When he
discovers that Fanny, is, in fact, known professionally as Sapho, that she modelled nude for Caoudal's scandalous
sculpture and even had a child by a notorious forger who is now imprisoned, he rejects her. Fanny's love for Jean, seems,
for once, genuine, however. Eventually Jean forgives her but, as he sleeps, Fanny, aware of her duty to her little son,
steals into the night. Ultimately, then, both Jean and Fanny are sympathetic figures although there remains a lingering
suspicion that Fanny may one day return to her previous ways. As Caoudal commented when she first showed an interest in Jean, "Toujours Sapho!"

(In another adaptation by the Broadway playwright, Clyde Fitch, "Sapho" caused such a sensation that prosecutions on
grounds of obscenity were brought. They failed and American society's attitude regarding public depictions of sex
began to change.)

Massenet was a famously commercial composer and his operas often show the influence of popular successes of the time. In "Sapho" there are many parallels dramatically, musically and in terms of character development with certain Verdi operas. The first act, for example, during which Sapho first lays eyes on Jean at a party, is reminiscent of the opening of "La Traviata" and there are also clear musical parallels, the use of an offstage band being one, with the opening of "Rigoletto". Massenet's own previous successes are also recalled, "Werther" and "Manon" in particular. Irene, the orphan girl and niece whom Jean's parents adopt, is another Sophie and Jean's aria in Act 1, "Ah! Qu'il est loin mon pays", in which he remembers his native Provence, is reminiscent of Des Grieux's "En fermant les yeux". Yet, "Sapho" does not lack freshness. Jean's aria is scarcely inferior to Des Grieux's and, indeed, the music of Acts 1 and 2 is consistently inspired. Once, in Act 3, Jean learns Fanny's true nature, however, Massenet has less scope for his own particular brand of tender lyricism. It is the same problem that Puccini has in "Madame Butterfly" once Pinkerton leaves. However, although the vocal lines now become more declamatory and the orchestral writing more motivic, there are still several fine lyrical passages, notably the duet for Jean and Divonne, his mother, and Fanny's aria "Pendant un an je fus ta femme". Once Jean returns to Fanny in the final act, Massenet is back on home ground though the final melody, given at first to a solo violin, is not one of his best.

You may expect the rival recording, with its native French cast, to be a clear first choice but, in fact, Bernard Keefe's
version, a BBC studio recording from 1973, is better cast. Milla Andrew does not share Renee Doria's problems with voice production and Alexander Oliver is excellent as Jean, his clear light tenor far more suggestive of the young, lovesick boy than the more conventionally operatic voice of Gines Sirera who, however, still manages to steal nearly every scene in which he appears. Furthermore, the two most important subsidiary roles, Irene and Caoudal, are better taken on Keefe's recording.

Unfortunately, choice is complicated by the fact that Keefe spoils the first act by rushing through it at breakneck speed. The swagger which Boutry finds for the dance music is entirely missing. Keefe does settle down later, however. Another disadvantage of Keefe's discs is the recording quality. The discs are afflicted by a loud hiss and some of the background noise suggests that they have been tranferred from L.P.s The balance is fair, however, and the voices are well caught. In general, though, the quality cannot compare with Boutry's recording, made in the Salle Wagram in 1976-7.

So, the decision is yours. Perhaps four stars for both recordings is rather generous but the opera itself is well worth investigating. A third recording, made at the Wexford Festival in 2001, may provide the answer. I hope to review it soon.


Massenet: Sapho
Massenet: Sapho
Price: £12.98

4.0 out of 5 stars An attractive opera. It's difficult to choose between Boutry and Keefe. Both have significant drawbacks., 12 Nov. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Massenet: Sapho (MP3 Download)
I hope you don't mind if I draw on my review of Roger Boutry's recording of this opera in the following:

"Sapho", the 13th of Massenet's 25 operas, dates from 1892 although it was not performed in its complete form until 1909.
The opera, based on a novel by Alphonse Daudet, tells the story of Fanny Legrand, a painter's model, who falls for a
simple country boy ("Jean", of course). She, however, has something of a chequered past of which he is unaware. When he
discovers that Fanny, is, in fact, known professionally as Sapho, that she modelled nude for Caoudal's scandalous
sculpture and even had a child by a notorious forger who is now imprisoned, he rejects her. Fanny's love for Jean, seems,
for once, genuine, however. Eventually Jean forgives her but, as he sleeps, Fanny, aware of her duty to her little son,
steals into the night. Ultimately, then, both Jean and Fanny are sympathetic figures although there remains a lingering
suspicion that Fanny may one day return to her previous ways. As Caoudal commented when she first showed an interest in Jean, "Toujours Sapho!"

(In another adaptation by the Broadway playwright, Clyde Fitch, "Sapho" caused such a sensation that prosecutions on
grounds of obscenity were brought. They failed and American society's attitude regarding public depictions of sex
began to change.)

Massenet was a famously commercial composer and his operas often show the influence of popular successes of the time. In "Sapho" there are many parallels dramatically, musically and in terms of character development with certain Verdi operas. The first act, for example, during which Sapho first lays eyes on Jean at a party, is reminiscent of the opening of "La Traviata" and there are also clear musical parallels, the use of an offstage band being one, with the opening of "Rigoletto". Massenet's own previous successes are also recalled, "Werther" and "Manon" in particular. Irene, the orphan girl and niece whom Jean's parents adopt, is another Sophie and Jean's aria in Act 1, "Ah! Qu'il est loin mon pays", in which he remembers his native Provence, is reminiscent of Des Grieux's "En fermant les yeux". Yet, "Sapho" does not lack freshness. Jean's aria is scarcely inferior to Des Grieux's and, indeed, the music of Acts 1 and 2 is consistently inspired. Once, in Act 3, Jean learns Fanny's true nature, however, Massenet has less scope for his own particular brand of tender lyricism. It is the same problem that Puccini has in "Madame Butterfly" once Pinkerton leaves. However, although the vocal lines now become more declamatory and the orchestral writing more motivic, there are still several fine lyrical passages, notably the duet for Jean and Divonne, his mother, and Fanny's aria "Pendant un an je fus ta femme". Once Jean returns to Fanny in the final act, Massenet is back on home ground though the final melody, given at first to a solo violin, is not one of his best.

You may expect the rival recording, with its native French cast, to be a clear first choice but, in fact, Bernard Keefe's
version, a BBC studio recording from 1973, is better cast. Milla Andrew does not share Renee Doria's problems with voice production and Alexander Oliver is excellent as Jean, his clear light tenor far more suggestive of the young, lovesick boy than the more conventionally operatic voice of Gines Sirera who, however, still manages to steal nearly every scene in which he appears. Furthermore, the two most important subsidiary roles, Irene and Caoudal, are better taken on Keefe's recording.

Unfortunately, choice is complicated by the fact that Keefe spoils the first act by rushing through it at breakneck speed. The swagger which Boutry finds for the dance music is entirely missing. Keefe does settle down later, however. Another disadvantage of Keefe's discs is the recording quality. The discs are afflicted by a loud hiss and some of the background noise suggests that they have been tranferred from L.P.s The balance is fair, however, and the voices are well caught. In general, though, the quality cannot compare with Boutry's recording, made in the Salle Wagram in 1976-7.

So, the decision is yours. Perhaps four stars for both recordings is rather generous but the opera itself is well worth investigating. A third recording, made at the Wexford Festival in 2001, may provide the answer. I hope to review it soon.


Massenet: Sapho
Massenet: Sapho
Offered by KAOZI168 Classical_ ''Dispatch From London within 1 day ''
Price: £25.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not one of Massenet's very best operas but there's still a lot to enjoy., 10 Nov. 2015
This review is from: Massenet: Sapho (Audio CD)
"Sapho", the 13th of Massenet's 25 operas, dates from 1892 although it was not performed in its complete form until 1909. The opera, based on a novel by Alphonse Daudet, tells the story of Fanny Legrand, a painter's model, who falls for a simple country boy (Jean, of course). She, however, has something of a chequered past of which he is unaware. When he discovers that Fanny, is, in fact, known professionally as Sapho, that she modelled nude for Caoudal's sculpture and even had a child by a notorious forger who is now imprisoned, he rejects her. Fanny's love for Jean, seems, for once, genuine, however. Eventually Jean forgives her but, as he sleeps, Fanny, aware of her duty to her little son, steals into the night. Ultimately, then, both Jean and Fanny are sympathetic figures although there remains a lingering suspicion that Fanny may one day return to her old ways. As Caoudal commented when she first showed an interest in Jean, "Toujours Sapho!"

(In another adaptation by the Broadway playwright, Clyde Fitch, "Sapho" caused such a sensation that prosecutions on
grounds of obscenity were brought. They failed and American society's attitude regarding public depictions of sex
began to change.)

Massenet was a famously commercial composer and his operas often show the influence of popular successes of the time. In "Sapho" there are many parallels dramatically, musically and in terms of character development with certain Verdi operas. The first act, for example, during which Sapho first lays eyes on Jean at a party, is reminiscent of the opening of "La Traviata" and there are also clear musical parallels, the use of an offstage band being one, with the opening of "Rigoletto". Massenet's own previous successes are also recalled, "Werther" and "Manon" in particular. Irene, the orphan girl and niece whom Jean's parents adopt, is another Sophie and Jean's aria in Act 1, "Ah! Qu'il est loin mon pays", in which he remembers his native Provence, is reminiscent of Des Grieux's "En fermant les yeux". Yet, "Sapho" does not lack freshness. Jean's aria is scarcely inferior to Des Grieux's and, indeed, the music of Acts 1 and 2 is consistently inspired. Once, in Act 3, Jean learns Fanny's true nature, however, Massenet has less scope for his own particular brand of tender lyricism. It is the same problem that Puccini has in "Madame Butterfly" when Pinkerton leaves. However, there are still several fine passages, notably the duet for Jean and Divonne, his mother, and Fanny's aria "Pendant un an je fus ta femme". Once Jean returns to Fanny in the final act, Massenet is back on form though the final melody, given at first to a solo violin, is not one of his best.

Renee Doria's vocal production is not consistent throughout her range and she struggles with the higher notes, her voice developing a kind of flutter and losing power. She characterises quite well, however. Although he is not the subtlest of singers and sounds too old for Jean, Gines Sirera produces a lovely rich tone. It is a pity he made so few recordings. The casting of the smaller roles is distinctly variable; there is some poorly focussed singing but nothing unacceptable.

The opera is very well conducted and the studio recording, which dates from 1977, is rich and full. "Sapho" may not be one of Massenet's very best works but it is far from negligible. I wouldn't want to be without this recording although it is far from ideal. I should add that my copy came with absolutely no documentation whatsoever...just two discs in an otherwise empty box. (I hope to review the version conducted by Bernard Keefe soon.)


Hans Pfitzner: Violin Concerto Op. 34; Duo for Violin, Cello and Orchestra Op. 43; Scherzo for Orchestra
Hans Pfitzner: Violin Concerto Op. 34; Duo for Violin, Cello and Orchestra Op. 43; Scherzo for Orchestra
Price: £9.96

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Probably the best version of Pfitzner's great concerto but not, perhaps, a "best buy"!, 3 Nov. 2015
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I hope you don't mind if I start by quoting from my review of Juraj Cizmarovic's performance of Pfitzner's great concerto. I have changed the timings, of course.

"Pfitzner's violin concerto dates from 1924. In the booklet note [for Cizmarovic's performance] Thomas Jakobi quotes Wolfgang Rihm who felt that "Pfitzner is too progressive to simply be savored like Korngold, and he is too conservative to have influenced music with audible results like Schoenberg" and it is true that the violin concerto never really settles stylistically. At times the music suggests an awareness of neo-Classical trends while, at others, it evokes a full-blooded Romanticism which fully justifies the disc's title.

The concerto is not an easy work to appreciate because it is structurally unconventional. It is also essentially motivic though it does blossom into melody on a number of occasions. It is this motivic working which unifies the concerto in spite of the diversity of styles employed. You will have to listen several times to follow the argument. At a first hearing, try to pick up the opening motif. Its rhythm (essentially a long note followed by two shorter ones, sometimes preceded by an upbeat) is of primary importance. Notice also the six note figure heard first at 58 secs which marks the beginning of what even the booklet calls a "rambling melody". This melody is characterised by its exploration of the "extremes of the tonal range". It is not, then, a tune which you will ever whistle but it acts as a motivic reservoir for much of the ensuing music. Another six note motif first heard at 1 min 45 secs is also important.

This section of the concerto becomes easier to listen to as it proceeds, its next idea, clearly employing the concerto's main motif and first heard on the brass at 4 mins 17 secs, being easily assimilated. A series of seven variations follows. The ensuing slow section (I am reluctant to use the word "movement", as is Mr Jakobi), during which the soloist is silent, employs the two six note motifs from the "rambling" melody (Track 2). This is the concerto's romantic heart.

The next section (Track 3) also becomes easier to listen to as it proceeds. The music becomes gradually more lyrical until a short virtuoso cadenza introduces, at 2 mins 52 secs, a string tune which is to dominate much of the rest of the concerto. Again, Pfitzner employs variation techniques. Other motifs are introduced and there are two captivating lyrical interludes, one at 6 mins 18 secs and the other, an extended version of the same music, at 11 mins 43 secs. Gradually the concerto's opening motif begins to dominate and, at 13 mins 31 secs, there is a clear reference to the "rambling" melody. This fine and, ultimately, highly rewarding concerto ends in virtuoso fashion."

There isn't a great deal to choose between the two versions. Cizmarovic is, I would say, a slightly more charismatic soloist but Gawriloff's disc is better recorded (Cizmarovic is balanced to the left) and packs more of a punch. Interpretatively, the main difference is that, on Gawriloff's disc, Albert takes the central section, during which the soloist is silent, a little slower. This is to the music's advantage.

There is also a fine recording by Susanne Lautenbacher. She plays with little or no vibrato; her performance is unmatched in intensity. The orchestral playing is less polished than on the other recordings but is far from unacceptable.

Couplings may affect your decision. The "Duo for Violin, 'Cello and Orchestra" on Gawriloff's disc is a miniature concerto. Its slow section, though, is hardly more than an interlude. It is lyrical, tuneful and immediately attractive. I preferred, though, Alban Gerhardt and Gergana Gergova's fleeter performance on the recent Hyperion disc of all Pfitzner's concertante 'cello music. (The Romantic 'Cello Concerto, Vol. 4.)

Gawriloff's disc also includes a 10 minute "Scherzo". Clearly influenced by Mendelssohn, it is a student work, structurally conventional and melodically plain. There are few surprises, then, but it is not unattractive.

Lautenbacher's disc includes fine performances of a worthwhile 'cello concerto and a negligible "Konzertstuck" for piano and orchestra by Volkmann. Cizmarovic's coupling is much the best...a lovely, lyrical violin concerto by Siegfried Wagner. This is a work which may seem rather featureless at first but, after a few hearings, its logic becomes apparent. Ultimately, it is irresistible.

Whichever version you choose (you can't go far wrong!), do not miss Pfitzner's concerto. It may be the greatest unsung violin concerto of the twentieth century.


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