Franaix: L’apocalypse selon St Jean

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Franaix
LABELS: Wergo
WORKS: L’apocalypse selon St Jean
PERFORMER: Eva Lind (soprano), Waltraud Hoffmann-Mucher (alto), Kurt Azesberger (tenor), Robert Holzer (bass); Singers of St Jacob’s Göttingen, Linz Youth Choir, Göttingen SO/Christian Simonis
CATALOGUE NO: WER 6632-2
Jean Françaix the stylish bundle of fun is a known quantity. Françaix the maker of oratorios is a rarer bird, and the Book of Revelation means oratorio with a vengeance. Few composers have picked such a mismatch. For all the double-orchestra forces – the second, representing hell, features instruments high, low and rude – the calmer episodes stand out as beacons of sweetness, light and true character. Faced with the need to be solemn, the young Françaix turned dull, and he is not helped here by an over-reverent growling Jesus.

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Heaviness, however, he just could not deliver. The violent, visionary passages inspired him to colourful grotesqueries like musical gargoyles, terrifying with an effort of imagination and often highly entertaining. Babylon takes on a faint Weillish tinge and angels consistently beat devils to the best tunes, smiling as they would in a medieval window. The freshly lyrical Prologue reappears with superimposed smears to give the end a touch of ambivalence.

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Working in short suggestive episodes rather than building a grand drama, L’apocalypse is well worth a visit if you enjoy the Poulenc Gloria. Singers and orchestra are sensitive, the recording copes with stolid tuttis and properly brandishes Françaix’s flamboyant trumpets. Robert Maycock