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Massenet: Visions; Brumaire – Overture, etc

Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Jean-Luc Tingaud (Naxos)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Visions; Brumaire – Overture; Phedre – Overture; Espada – Suite; Les Erinnyes – Incidental Music
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Jean-Luc Tingaud
Naxos 8.574178   75:05 mins

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As Massenet moved into his 60s in the early 1900s, sadly much of his music reworked earlier ideas to no great benefit. His suite Espada of 1908 processes Spanish clichés to deliver the equivalent of processed cheese, while even the overture Brumaire of 1900, just short of his 60th birthday, celebrates the centenary of the 1799 coup d’état with vulgar tub-thumping. The symphonic poem Visions of 1891 offers, in its opening tritones, the unfulfilled hope that Massenet might be developing his language on the forward-looking lines of the Danse macabre.

By far the best music comes in his overture Phèdre of 1873 and his incidental music to Les Érinnyes of 1876. In the latter, only the first two of the six movements refer to the French version of Aeschylus’s Oresteia and are suitably dramatic in their different ways; the last three movements are merely independent Greek dances (a fact not mentioned in the generally unhelpful liner notes). Phèdre shows Massenet at his best, boasting memorable melodic lines, powerful harmonies and vivid orchestration. Jean-Luc Tingaud draws expressive playing from the orchestra throughout and does his best with the weaker moments. It’s very unfortunate therefore that the two final G minor chords of Phèdre, both marked ‘sec’ (abrupt), set off a resonance in the hall lasting some seven seconds. I feel I should also point out that the first paragraph of the liner notes on Les Érinnyes is an unacknowledged and barely altered borrowing from Irvine’s 1994 biography.

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Roger Nichols