Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A French Resolution

We’re working on the Masterworks May, four French works that span the period from 1866 to 1931. All four works on the concert have excerpts published in the ubiquitous cello excerpt books, published in the 50's (I guess), edited by Leonard Rose. Out of context, it is impossible to picture how these little bits fit into the greater picture. It was best to get ahold of 78 RPM recordings of the works; there are such links to the Lalo overture and a beautiful aria from Mignon below.

Each half of the concert opens with an overture, first the Overture to Mignon by Ambroise Thomas, and later the Overture to Le roi d’Ys by Edouard Lalo. The American premieres of both of these works took place in New Orleans, at the French Opera House. Mignon premiered in 1871 and Le roi d’Ys in 1890.

Ambroise Thomas, a contemporary of Charles Gounod (whose Romeo and Juliet was recently put on by Knoxville Opera), starts his overture with a clarinet solo. Later on, in the strings’ portion of the introduction, something was clearly “sampled” by Andrew Lloyd Weber in Music of the Night. The polonaise-like body of the work must surely have been a staple on Boston Pops concerts, just as the famous Gavotte is a staple on Suzuki recitals.

If I said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, the Ravel Piano Concerto in G is a desert island piece for me. As funky as Rhapsody in Blue but deeper. Outer movements that bend your mind while tapping your feet, sandwiched around the most gorgeous slow movement of anything ever.

Lalo’s opera is about King Ys (yes, his name is Ys, pronounced like the letter “e.” French is a strange language). His daughter Margared is betrothed to Prince Karnac. I’m going to leave the rest to your imagination. The PBS documentary on Johnny Carson is affecting me. Or maybe it’s the tequila.

Debussy’s La Mer is to the ocean as Holst’s The Planets is to the solar system. The first movement is entitled De l’aube à midi sur la mer, or “from dawn to noon on the sea.” At about 10:15, in the middle of Car Talk, the cello section breaks out in 4 part harmony with the most amazing bleu vignette; a veritable bleuprint for much of the big band horn harmony heard here in the 40's. The orchestration throughout the work is as brilliant as anything by Berlioz, Stravinsky or Bartok, and the brass really let the ship back and haul away on the mizzen to bring this seascape to a close.

VIVE LA FRANCE! Thursday and Friday at 8 at the Theatre de Tennessee.

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