Composers: Debussy, Schoenberg, Massenet, Hahn, Berg, Chausson, Strauss, Bridge, Elgar, Zemlinsky, Rachmaninov, Fauré, Ravel, Kreisler, Koechlin, Enescu, Juon, Webern, Sinding
Compositions: Chamber music
Performers: Daniel Hope v, Lisa de la Salle, Simon Crawford-Phillips p, Zurich Chamber Orchestra
Catalogue Number: DG 4837244 (2CD)
In his first volume of autobiography, My Young Years, Arthur Rubinstein discusses the gilded salons of pre-WWI Paris, and how, during performances at these glamorous affairs (usually before a grand dinner), the 100 or so members of beau monde present would often applaud or ‘bravo’ at the end of a particular passage they liked, whether there was a pause in the music or not.
It’s that world of sophisticated elegance which the term “Belle Époque” might suggest to you, but it’s not necessarily the world Daniel Hope is trying to evoke in this ambitious release. As he says of this period in the insert notes: “There was much division, hatred and jealousy… political tensions, discontent among the working classes and imperialism. And yet with hindsight we tend to look at it and say ‘isn’t that beautiful?’”
And many pieces on this ambitious release are beautiful. There is exceptional music and playing to enjoy here (the posthumously published sonata by Ravel is a highlight), but
I wish I found the overall result more involving. It is wonderful to hear so many rarely-played works, but in many cases it’s not clear why they’re here.
Apparently the second disc, devoted to chamber music, is sequenced in roughly chronological order, but the insert notes are so skimpy it’s hard to know how some of the music links back to Hope’s central idea. When did Arnold Schoenberg write his jaunty little Piece in D Minor? Why do we only hear the first movement of Zemlinsky’s A Major serenade? What is the story with French composer Koechlin’s glorious little pieces for violin, horn and piano, which are apparently written to be played out of sequence? (He did have a wicked sense of humour, but more information would be helpful).
I’m also puzzled by the decision to orchestrate the major work in the set, Chausson’s Concert for Violin, Piano and String Quartet. This is a unique, richly textured work with a melancholy beauty enhanced by its unusual instrumentation. In its original version it’s a powerful emotional narrative played out in an intimate setting, which it cannot be in this performance, in which the string quartet parts are allocated to the 20 musicians of the Zurich Chamber Orchestra. This is not a criticism of the performance; I simply question why a release celebrating the spirit of the Belle Époque would change the sound of one of the era’s most substantial chamber works so profoundly.