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Emmanuel CHABRIER (1841-1894)
Joyeuse marche (1888) [3:40]
Overture to Gwendoline (1886) [9:23]
Habanera (1885) [4:11]
España (1883) [6:12]
Lamento (1874) [7:44]
Bourrée fantasque (orchestrated by Felix Mottl) (1897) [6:44]
Suite pastorale:Idylle, Danse Villageoise, Sous bois, Scherzo-valse (1888) [19:05]
L’Étoile:Overture and two Entr’actes (1877) [8:11]
The Roi malgré lui:Fête polonaise and Danse Slave (1887) [12:28]
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Neeme Järvi
rec. Victoria Hall, Geneva, Switzerland, 27-29 June 2012
CHANDOS CHSA 5122 [78:42]

Chabrier’s background had not prepared him for the life of music of which he later became part. He graduated in Law, working as a clerk within the Ministry of the Interior (the French Home Office) and only took up music for recreational purposes. It was exposure to Wagner that first excited Chabrier’s interest yet the music he began to write had no direct relevance to the source of his inspiration.
The disc’s tracks here provide a varied selection of Chabrier’s output, España and Marche Joyeuse being the best known. This CD contains considerable overlap with the material found on the poorly-filled 2000 Naxos release of Chabrier yet this recording has the edge not only in being generously filled, but in bringing forth Järvi’s good interpretations and velvety orchestral response. Comparing the Habanera on the two discs the dreamy quality generated by the Suisse Romande for me is sumptuous. It may seem an exaggeration to consider that Chabrier’s compositions underwent a change after his visit to Spain and the resulting España in 1883, but I think they did. After this time his works seem, to take on extra colour and there’s a feeling of a freedom of expressive dance introduced. One wonders what his opera, L’Etoile might have been like had it been composed in the second period of Chabrier’s career. L’Etoile was an early attempt at opera writing and at the time it had been of little interest in France yet became successful when performed in Germany. Here, its overture opening is very accessible and could be mistaken for a ballet by Tchaikovsky. It is delightfully frothy and vibrant in this interpretation brought to life by the Suisse Romande orchestra.
The Suite Pastorale is lightly scored, originally conceived as a suite for the piano that became orchestrated eight years later in the form we have here. It shows Chabrier in a more tranquil mood. I notice that the Idylle’s opening oddly does not begin until 9 seconds in from the track start. When it does start I find the performance much more spirited in the Naxos version (about 10% quicker) and here the Järvi pace disappoints. As a piece, the folksyDanse Villageoise is rather repetitious and might have benefited had Chabrier introduced an extra theme.
Chabrier’s opera Gwendoline is remembered from the Beecham recording now revived on BBC Legends. A delightful reading of this robust and powerful overture is given by Järvi with its engaging opening of galloping horses. This reminds me of Chabrier’s fascination with Wagner so it comes as no surprise that this overture could be Chabrier’s re-moulding of the Valkyries and other Wagnerian themes; not quite the same fire and brimstone, but a prelude to it, maybe.

The operatic composition Le Roi malgré luicame late in Chabrier’s career and his adventurous Fête Polonaise gives a deliberate twist to the Viennese tradition. In Danse Slave Chabrier interestingly recycles earlier ideas: the swirling colours in the piece have the unmistakable Spanish ring of España about them. The opera might have enjoyed a successfully long run, but it was tragically cut short by a theatre fire six days after the opening night. Revivals in 2004, 2009 and 2012 have provided a renewed interest in the work.
The lively notes by Roger Nicholls (English, German and French) provide good background material on the music but sadly there is little space left for notes on the composer. Estonian Järvi is very much at home in the field of romantic music and throughout conducts with verve. The Suisse Romande respond with an inclusive warmth.
Raymond J Walker 

See also review of the 24/96 download by Dan Morgan