Alfred BRUNEAU (1857-1934)
Requiem (c.1884) [40.29]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Pelléas et Mélisande, Symphonie (arranged Marius Constant) [23.07]
Mireille Delunsch (soprano), Edgaras Montvidas (tenor), Nora Gubisch (mezzo), Jérôme Varnier (bass)
Children Chorus of La Monnaie, De Munt/Vlaams Radio Koor,
Symphony Orchestra and Chorus of La Monnaie, De Munt/Ludovic Morlot
rec. live, 7-8 November 2012, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels; 1, 4 June 2013, Flagey, Brussels (Debussy), Belgium
No sung texts provided.
CYPRES CYP7615 [63.39]

Under its then chief conductor Ludovic Morlot, La Monnaie Symphony Orchestra, the orchestra of the leading Brussels opera house Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, has recorded this valuable rare recording of the Alfred Bruneau Requiem. Also included is Marius Constant’s concert suite drawn from the music of the Debussy opera.

A name virtually unknown today outside France, Alfred Bruneau was a pupil at the Paris Conservatoire and studied under Massenet and Franck. Bruneau was celebrated in his time for writing a series of operas to librettos by Émile Zola. These followed the style of the influential Naturalisme movement active in French opera - rather like the Verismo movement in Italy.

Bruneau wrote his Requiem around 1884 early in his career before he produced his first opera Kérim (1887). The booklet notes state that the Requiem was not written in memory of any particular person and that Bruneau had been inspired by paintings at the Louvre at Paris. However, it does seem that the Requiem may have been dedicated to his mother and father. The Requiem had to wait until 1896 for its first performance given at the Queen’s Hall, London by the London Bach Choir under the baton of Sir Charles Villiers Stanford. Sequentially Bruneau’s Requiem comes between the Requiems by Saint-Saëns (1878) and Gounod (1893). Not surprisingly one hears similarities in the overall temperament of the Saint-Saëns work and the Verdi Missa da Requiem (first performed in 1874) both works that Bruneau would certainly have known.

It helps to give the Bruneau Requiem several plays before the score reveals its full appeal. There are numerous captivating sections and especially enjoyable is the Dies Irae and Tuba Mirum (track 2) with its weighty vocal and orchestral writing revealing a remarkable biting mystery and awe with the soothing effect of the Children’s Choir providing a stark contrast. Finest of all is the Agnus Dei (track 8) with soprano Mireille Delunsch’s captivating voice emitting a glorious tone. This is high in piety and is followed by memorably melodic writing for chorus. Generally well focused the quartet of soloists seems very much at home and performs with an abundance of passionate intensity. Admirable too are the performances of the Choruses of La Monnaie and Vlaams Radio Koor singing with freshness, warmth, reverence and pleasing unity. Under Ludovic Morlot’s direction La Monnaie Symphony Orchestra plays with enthusiasm and no shortage of sensitivity, communicating an instinctive feel for this French late-Romantic repertoire.

Marius Constant’s concert suite Pelléas et Mélisande, Symphonie is his 1983 arrangement of music from Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande (1893-1902). The suite not only uses the symphonic interludes written for the scene changes but employs music from critical dramatic sections of the opera: for example the act 4 Love Scene and Mélisande’s slow death in the final act. In this rich score the orchestra demonstrates its prowess responding to the passionate music with relish and commitment and no small degree of poetic fantasy.

The booklet contains a reasonably informative essay but omits the Latin text for the Requiem which is quite an oversight. I know the text of the Latin Requiem Mass reasonably well but I couldn’t claim to know it by heart. Like many others I would have found having the text extremely useful. It seems that both works were recorded live in Brussels: the Bruneau in 2012 at the Palais des Beaux-Arts and the Debussy in 2013 at Flagey. Applause has been taken out and I can detect virtually no extraneous noise to cause distraction. The sound team has provided good clarity and balance without being outstanding and the wide dynamic range does require a certain amount of volume control adjustment. I enjoyed every note of the Bruneau Requiem and heartily commend this release to lovers of French and sacred music.

Michael Cookson

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