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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Gabriel Fauré - Orchestral Works (Michel Plasson)


Composer: Gabriel Fauré

  • (01-05) Pelléas et Mélisande, Op. 80
  • (06-13) Masques et bergamasques, Op. 112
  • (14-19) Shylock, Op. 57
  • (01) Ballade, for piano & orchestra, in F sharp major, Op. 19
  • (02) Elegie, for cello & orchestra, in C minor, Op. 24
  • (03) Berceuse, for violin & orchestra, in D major, Op. 16
  • (04) Fantaisie, for piano & orchestra, in G major, Op. 111
  • (05) Les Djinns, for chorus & orchestra, Op. 12
  • (06-10) Caligula, Op. 52
  • (11) Pénélope, opera: Prelude

Jean-Philippe Collard, piano (Op. 19 & Op. 111)
Paul Tortelier, cello (Op. 24)
Yan Pascal Tortelier, violin (Op. 16)
Frederica von Stade, mezzo-soprano (Op. 80)
Nicolai Gedda, tenor (Op. 57 & Op. 112)
Ensemble vocal Alix Bourbon (Op. 52 & Op. 112)
Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse
Michel Plasson, conductor

Date: 1979 (CD2), 1980 (CD1)
Label: EMI



Fauré wrote few orchestral works and so EMI are to be congratulated in assembling this fine 2 CD set of reissues. Michel Plasson and his Toulouse players capture the sophistication and delicate refinement of this lovely music. The Pelléas et Mélisande and Masques et Bergamasques suites are well known. The spellbinding limpid beauty of ‘The Spinning Girl’ and the catchy dance rhythms of the Masques et Bergamasques Gavotte, for instance and, of course, that haunting Pavane. But also on CD1 we have the unusual bonuses of vocals in both suites: Frederica von Stade’s lovely wistful and achingly sad ‘Mélisande’s Song’; and Nicolai Gedda’s beautifully enunciated and shaped ‘The Sweetest Road’ and ‘Clair de lune’ - both ravishing creations. Added to these riches is the less well-known Shylock (1889) music. The opening ‘Song’ opens with shadowy string figures lightened by harp filigree before the entry of Nicolai Gedda’s thrilling ardent tones. The ‘Entr'acte’ is cast in heroic, chivalric mode unusual for Fauré but highly effective for its contrasting tender passages. The short ‘Madrigal’ is another delightful romantic solo from Gedda with a refined light-as-air accompaniment. The melodious ‘Epithalame’, with its bittersweet violin solo, is dreamily introspective while the ‘Nocturne’ is another of Fauré’s magical evocations. The ‘Finale’ is another gem richly orchestrated with intriguing operetta-like martial figures and interesting pizzicatos.

CD2 is devoted mainly to concerto-type and choral material. Jean-Phillipe Collard is the soloist in Fauré’s Ballade for piano and orchestra (1881). It was originally composed for piano only. Liszt declared it too difficult to play! Many moods are encompassed over its 14 minute span ranging from the intense to the playful. Collard rises well to its overt and subtle challenges. Collard is also the soloist in Fauré’s late work, his Fantaisie (first performed in 1919) an autumnal work fully imbued with Fauré’s nostalgia and wistfulness but with moments of turbulence too. Cellist, Paul Tortelier is the eloquent soloist in the mournful Élégie (1880) that also has moments of wistfulness and anguish; and Yan Pascal Tortelier makes the lovely lyrical Berceuse, for violin and orchestra, with its familiar delicate melody, sing sweetly.

The main item in the CD2 programme is the incidental music Fauré wrote for Caligula by Alexandre Dumas (author of The Three Musketeers). Dumas’s play was about the cruel, tyrannical Roman Emperor of the title. The suite opens with imposing majestic fanfares and a proud, bouncy march contrasted with more relaxed, more intimate material. A choral interjection, with heavy percussive ostinato seems to speak of the might of the Empire before their tone moderates to more tender pliant material. The women then tenderly sing the evocative ‘L’hiver s’enfuit’. The first ‘Melodrama and Chorus’ begins in sweet nostalgia before the tempo picks up to a joyful dance-rhythm that dips in and out of the shadows while the chorus sensitively picks up its alternating light and shade accordingly. Shadows close in on the second of the ‘Melodrama and Chorus’ movements with the women’s voices in a typical Fauré mood of sweet dejection. The ‘Air de danse’ is one of Fauré’s most beautiful melodies, one can imagine a dainty dance by young Roman maidens. The Ensemble Vocal Alix Bourbon also star in Fauré’s somewhat stormily evocative Les Djinns. The djinns were an order of spirits rather lower than angels which could transform themselves into humans or animals. The concert is completed by the Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse playing Fauré’s Prelude to Pénélope, his opera about the return of Ulysses, the king of Greek mythology, to his faithful wife Penelope. This is narrative music par excellence suggestive of the grieving sad lonely wife dreaming of the heroic horn call that will announce the return of her hero.

This enterprising programme mixes Fauré’s more celebrated works (in more complete versions than normally recorded) with much less familiar material. Michel Plasson, his soloists, and the Toulouse players perform these lovely, wistful works with devotion and sensitivity. Unhesitatingly recommended.

-- Ian Lace, MusicWeb International

More reviews:


Gabriel Fauré (12 May 1845 – 4 November 1924) was a French composer, organist, pianist and teacher. He was one of the foremost French composers of his generation, and his musical style influenced many 20th-century composers. Among his best-known works are his Pavane, Requiem, nocturnes for piano and the songs "Après un rêve" and "Clair de lune". Fauré composed many of his most highly regarded works in his later years, in a more harmonically and melodically complex style. His music has been described as linking the end of Romanticism with 20th century modernism.


Michel Plasson (born 2 October 1933 in Paris, France) is a French conductor. He was a student of Lazare Lévy at the Conservatoire de Paris. In 1968, Plasson became principal conductor of the Orchestre et Chœurs du Capitole de Toulouse. resigned as principal conductor in 2003 and now has the title of "Honorary Conductor", or conductor emeritus. From 1994 to 2001, he was principal conductor of the Dresden Philharmonic. Plasson's recordings were mainly made for EMI/Virgin, and focused upon works by French composers.


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