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A Musical Journey: France - A Musical Tour of Provence
Chapter 1: Chateau du Roi René, Tarascon
Chapter 2: Chateau d’If, Marseille
Chapter 3: Camargue Landscape
Chapter 4: Port de Poussai
Chapter 5: St-Raphaêl, Ile d'Or, Cote d'Azur
Chapter 6: La fête des gardiens, Arles
Chapter 7: Port Camargue
Chapter 8: Corniche de l’Esterel, Cannes
Chapter 9: Nautilus Aquarium, Cannes
Chapter 10: Fréjus
Chapter 11: Aigues-Mortes, Camargue
Music by Emmanuel Chabrier, Maurice Ravel, Gabriel Fauré, Godard, Claude Debussy, Jacques Offenbach and Camille Saint Saëns
Music from Naxos CD 8.570057 French Festival. Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Keith Clark and Ondrej Lenárd
No recording dates or venues given
DVD Director: G. Gachot
Cameraman: H T Aschwanden
Audio Format: DTS 5.1. Dolby Digital 5.1. PCM Stereo 2.0
Video Format: NTSC. Region 0. Colour. Aspect ratio 4:3
NAXOS 2.110312 [55.09]

Experience Classicsonline

The main content of the photography in this issue focuses on the area east of the Rhone and south of Nimes. This is the Provence region. It is famous for its scenery, seaside resorts for the chic and its memorable Corniche drive. That’s before we get to the traditions of the Camargue, the region where the Rhone splits into a wide marshy area before pouring into the Mediterranean Sea. Look at the booklet and this is what you expect to see.
However, I have become used to the frustrations as well as the enjoyments of reviewing these Musical Journeys on Naxos. No grumbles about the musical performances. As here, they are never less than good and often much better than that. My frustrations arise because of the choice and focus of the photography. It often lingers excessively on wind-blown fields of grass, or a sunset, when I know there are wonderful sites that could be shown a mere stone’s throw away. My frustrations with this issue are that the descriptions of the contents too often do not match what is seen. The booklet mentions (CH.8) the Corniche de l’Esterel and that it was built in 1903 along the coastal side of the Massif of the same name. It is a magnificent drive from St-Raphaêl to Cannes that is also mentioned as being famous for its film festival. Mention, but do not show, seems to be the policy. Yes we see some of the captivating inhabitants of the Nautilus Aquarium at Cannes and waters lapping St-Raphaêl, but pretty well everything else between is viewed from a boat including the inside of a cave! Believe me, it is nothing like as spectacular as the drive along the Corniche, one that has featured in several films. It’s the same with Fréjus (CH.10): we see nothing of the town whilst Port de Poussi (CH.4) is a waste of picture time.
That is the bad news out of the way. As well as some well-played and evocative music there are some good parts. The start (CH.1) at the mighty bastide castle of Tarascon, the Chateau of King René at a time before a unified France came into being and situated adjacent to the Rhone, is well photographed, both near to and from across the river. Its preservation makes it one of the finest medieval castles in France. Regrettably we do not see much of its inner architecture. It would have been interesting to have photographs of the view from its ramparts across the river to the west side where stands the castle of Beaucaire, formerly a stronghold of the Counts of Toulouse.
Satisfying also are the views of the bleak round tower of the Chateau d’If, and of the port of Marseille, the largest in the Med. Built between 1524 and 1528 on a nearby island the Chateau d’If was designed to protect the port. It was later used as a prison and immortalised by Alexandre Dumas who imprisoned two of his heroes here, The Man in the Iron Mask and The Count of Monte Cristo. It was used as a prison and it is interesting to see the internal architecture.
The filming does cross the Rhone to the west to visit the town of Aigues-Mortes (CH.11). This fortified town was built for Louis IX for use by his huge armada of ships, hired from Venice, to embark on a crusade to Cyprus in 1248. It now stands four miles from the sea, connected to it by a canal and to the north by the Canal du Rhone. The ramparts are extensive and encompass the whole town which is remarkably preserved, seemingly unscathed by the ravages of time. Look carefully at one point and you will see the saltpans that now provide a major source of income.
There are views of the Camargue and the white horses as have been seen on other issues in this series (CH.3). Also included, and more interesting, is the La fête des gardiens (CH.6). This is the annual celebration of the custodians of the Camargue in all their finery astride the white horses; the men traditionally saddled, the women side-saddled. Briefly on show at this celebration is the Roman Arena at Arles of which more could gainfully have been shown. The music of Offenbach is appropriate here as is his Barcarolle from the Tales of Hoffmann in the visit to the Nautilus Aquarium.
Robert J Farr

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