A Librarian’s Choice #2

A Librarian’s Choice #2

This time, five orchestral works are presented, which include different large instrumentations and have one thing in common: in a certain way, they refuse to be stylistically categorized according to common chronological schemes: be it through musical forms such as fugues and baroque dances or specifically used harmonies and unconventional extra-musical subjects.

Ferdinand "Fred" Barlow : Sinfonietta des saisons
For strings and timpani
1950, 13 min
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This short piece for strings and timpani is without great technical difficulties for the musicians. Fred Barlow from Alsace, a pupil of Koechlin's who worked in Paris with Erik Satie and the Groupe des Six, composed an annual cycle that is not too complicated from a practical or technical point of view, but which has a certain gloom in musical terms, as the year begins in winter and ends in autumn. A single theme runs through all four movements from "L'hiver", through "Le printemps" and a very melodious, gentle "Nuit d'été" to "L'automne". Whereas the first movement can be read as a dark, threatening prelude, the approaching spring and the fading autumn are designed as fugues, which lends the passage of the year a certain drama and not uninteresting gravity.


Camille Saint-Saens: Suite, Op. 49
For chamber orchestra: 2 / 2 / 2 / 2 — 2 / 2 / 0 / 0 — timb. — strings (divided)
1863, 20 min
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This suite is a work from Saint-Saens' repertoire that is unfortunately not played very often and is also for a rather small orchestra. The strings are definitely in the foreground in this work, while the woodwinds provide subtle variations in tone color. Stylistically, this suite with its movements, Prelude, Sarabande, Gavotte, Romance and Final, is slightly reminiscent of a baroque dance sequence, which is also stylistically noticeable in the music. A real delicacy is the Romance, in which an incredibly elegiac octave string melody predominates. The next time you can hear this masterpiece live will be with the Orchestre National de Bretagne in May 2024.

Guy Ropartz: La chasse du Prince Arthur
Symphonic study after A. Brizeux
1912, 13 min
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Let's stay in Brittany: Guy Ropartz evokes the poem "Les Bretons" by Auguste Brizeux in his orchestral piece and takes us on a wonderfully (late) romantic journey in which some traditional Breton melodies and folk tunes are quoted and processed. This work also has an incredibly tender beginning and very slowly builds up to a triumphant first climax halfway through the work  - beautiful horn passages are of course a must in a piece about hunting, even if conciliatory string sounds provide a harmonious finale at the end.

Charles Koechlin: La Méditation de Purun Baghat, Opus 159
symphonic poem based on “The Jungle Book” by Rudyard Kipling
For orchestra: 3 / 3 / 4 / 4 — 6 / 4 / 4 / 1 — timb. - perc. - pno - grand organ - 2 hpe — strings (divided)
1936, 13 min
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This is a work which, due to its not entirely uncomplicated orchestration, lends itself to a combination with a similarly scored longer symphonic work. Koechlin once again demonstrates his skill in terms of sophisticated harmonic constructions and timbres. The very slow musical and rhythmic development, which initially includes a complex, rather searching melody played almost in unison for long stretches, describes the spiritual development and maturity of Purun Baghat, who at the age of 60 renounces all wealth and power in order to live as a beggar. Koechlin based his choice of subject matter on Kipling's "Jungle Book", a subject that he has repeatedly explored for over 40 years and which has inspired him to write several compositions that evoke a dialog between cultures - and which bring forth far more multi-layered perspectives than one would perhaps say about the novel itself from today's perspective.