Chabrier: Gwendoline

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: L’empreinte digitale
WORKS: Gwendoline
PERFORMER: Adriana Kohútková, Didier Henry, Gérard Garino; Brno Czech National PO Male Choir, Slovak National PO & Choir/Jean-Paul Penin
CATALOGUE NO: ED 13059 (distr. Harmonia Mundi)
Set in ninth-century England, Gwendoline concerns the tragic, death-climaxed love of a Viking for a Saxon chief’s daughter. It’s a curious concentration of arias, ensembles, choruses and set-pieces, of intensity and bombast, melodrama and sentimentality; where Wagner and Verdi rub shoulders, and Bellini meets Sousa by the light of Pelléas.


This first integral ‘live’ recording (one remembers an old Beecham-conducted overture) apologises for neither the work’s eclecticism nor naivety. Though on the reverberant side, it’s a tight account, galvanising the music without sacrificing reflection or romance. Just occasionally, the cast over-project and force the sound (Kohútková, in particular, has a tendency to be edgy rather than pure, rather like the high violins), but the choirs are stable, and the wind and brass robust. Penin evidently relishes the sumptuous style.


Once popular, Gwendoline (1886) dropped out of circulation some fifty years ago. Just because Debussy dismissed Chabrier for wasting his time with ‘lyrical drama: a Glucko-Wagnerian importation… opposed to our native genius’, doesn’t mean we have to. Ates Orga