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David Denton
David's Review Corner, October 2020

Though he is one of the most frequently performed opera composers, precious little is known of the wealth of music composed by Jules Massenet in many other genres.

Here we have a sample of that diversity with five very differing works for symphony orchestra, all too rarely found in the concert repertoire. His reluctance to move with the fast evolving changes that were taking place in European music at the close of the Nineteenth century, rather left him stranded in a no-man’s-land during the autumn of his life. That should certainly not detract from a most welcome release that opens with the dramatic overture to Brumaire, commissioned in 1900 to open Edouad Noel’s dramatic play. Nine years earlier, he had followed in the footsteps of Liszt, with an expansive symphonic poem for large orchestra that covers a whole gambit of moods. Dramatic in the outer sections they surround a central passage of shimmering beauty. Massenet also composed ballets, Espada being to a Spanish scenario, Massenet subsequently taking four dances to create a concert-hall suite. Rather a tourist’s view of Spain but very enjoyable. The descriptive musical pictures of Les Erinnyes (The Furies) were premiered in 1873, the work subsequently expanded for the 1876 version of a work lasting for over half an hour and coloured by an enlarged orchestra. Finally the 1873 overture, Phedre, pictures Jean Racine’s dramatic story of her love for her stepson. As I have come to expect, the French conductor, Jean-Luc Tingaud, has breathed more life into the music few others could bring about, and galvanises the already excellent Royal Scottish National to new levels of excellence. Very punchy and detailed sound recorded in August 2019. © 2020 David’s Review Corner

Records International, October 2020

Besides operas, Massenet wrote a significant portfolio of orchestral music which include ballets, orchestral suites and incidental music. The works presented here show his versatility and lyricism and include the one-act 1908 ballet Espada, saturated in Iberian color and beguiling rhythms, as well as Les Érinnyes of 1876 (‘The Furies’) with a vivid sequence of contrasting themes. Modeled after Liszt, Visions (1891) is a poème-symphonique of both ethereal and dramatic power. © 2020 Records International

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