The French Romantic Experience. © 2019 Palazzetto Bru Zane

CD Spotlight

The French Romantic Experience

CD box set from Palazzetto Bru Zane in Venice

'... almost a mini course in French Romantic music, and well worth a try.'


In this magazine, I have often reviewed live performances both in Venice and in other European cities - eg Munich and Paris - produced by the Palazzetto Bru Zane - Centre de musique romantique française. However, outside the world of music and Venetians, who are great and passionate concertgoers, few know that near the Basilica of the Frari, there is the operational headquarters of a French foundation, funded by a Swiss patron. Its mission is to reconstruct with critical editions and make known the music of the great nineteenth century (1780-1910) through performances in Venice, France and other countries, books and a special edition of CDs.

The Palazzetto Bru Zane - Centre de musique romantique française is celebrating its first ten years of activity (2009-2019). The celebrations began on 20 September 2019 with an exceptional concert entitled A Summer Night at the Scuola Grande San Giovanni Evangelista in Venice: the soprano Véronique Gens and the ensemble I Giardini presented arias, mélodies and instrumental music by Saint-Saëns, Ropartz, Berlioz, Chausson, Offenbach and Fauré. Almost in parallel with the start of the celebrations in Venice, a symphonic and lyrical concert with the Orchestre de Chambre de Paris, the Concert Spirituel Choir and sixteen soloists (including Emmanuel Ceysson and Lara Neumann) was held in Paris on 7 October. The concert proposed several comic and dramatic pages of French authors.

The festival continues for a year with monographic cycles dedicated to individual authors, operettas in Venice, Paris, other European cities, as well as, for the first time, in Montreal. For details, just go to the site. In short, with the opening to the public of the Venetian Zane Palace in San Polo in October 2009, following important restoration work, ten years ago an institution was born and is dedicated to the study of a considerable segment of the history of music: the nineteenth century French repertory, largely forgotten and sometimes undervalued. Many musicians and numerous titles obliterated for about a century have inspired musicians, even outside France, such as Giuseppe Verdi, Igor Stravinsky and Alban Berg. There is also great chamber music, ignored for decades, such as that of George Onlsow, who, at the time, was named 'the French Beethoven'.

The elegant and intimate Palace has become the ideal laboratory for selecting, programming and recording works by hundreds of composers, in order to reveal a romance full of different nuances. In addition to the festivities, a precious ten-CD box set The French Romantic Experience was released in October 2019, with numerous pieces from productions chosen from the many activities of the ten years of rediscovery of the Bru Zane Palazzetto.

Two CDs cover opera and two pieces of orchestral and symphonic music, and the others, respectively, operetta, cantatas, sacred music, chamber music, piano and mélodie. A precious collection.

In a review of as many as ten CDs, only a flair can be given of this French Romantic experience. In the opera section, a good example is the sensual Sémiramis-Arsace duet from Sémiramis by Charles-Simon Catel.

Listen — Charles-Simon Catel: Eh bien! Ne tarde plus ... (Sémiramis)
(CD1 track 4, 0:00-0:41) © 2019 Palazzetto Bru Zane :

The ensemble from Hervé's Les Chevaliers de la Table ronde - a live performance in Venice was reviewed in Music & Vision on 12 February 2016 - makes us sense the differences between French operetta and the better known Austrian-Hungarian operetta.

Listen — Hervé: Qu'ils sont coquets ... (Les Chevaliers de la Table ronde)
(CD3 track 11, 0:00-0:54) © 2019 Palazzetto Bru Zane :

Among the cantatas, a very flourishing type of music in the French Romantic period, an excellent example is La Religeuse by Théodore Gouvry.

Listen — Théodore Gouvry: La Religeuse
(CD4 track 1, 5:08-6:06) © 2019 Palazzetto Bru Zane :

In the sacred music section, I would indicate the Dies Ire from Charles-Henri Plantade's Messe de morts in ré mineur à la mémoire de Marie-Antoinette. It is an interesting sample of Restoration music.

Listen — Charles-Henri Plantade: Dies Irae
(Messe de morts in ré mineur à la mémoire de Marie-Antoinette)
(CD5 track 1, 1:13-2:11) © 2019 Palazzetto Bru Zane :

In the orchestral music, it is interesting to sense how exotic themes (especially from Spain and Latin America) influenced the French Romantic composer as in, for example, the overture of Le Perle du Brésil by Félicien David.

Listen — Félicien David: Ouverture (Le Perle du Brésil)
(CD6 track 6, 0:00-0:50) © 2019 Palazzetto Bru Zane :

In the concert music, the Adagio from Marie Jaëlle's Concerto pour piano and orchestra shows both the role of French women musicians in that period and the modernity they had reached at the end of nineteenth century.

Listen — Marie Jaëlle: Adagio (Piano Concerto No 1)
(CD7 track 8, 6:04-7:04) © 2019 Palazzetto Bru Zane :

In the field of chamber music, my favourite is George Onslow's Quatuor en ut mineur.

Listen — George Onslow: Largo - Allegro agitato (Quartet in C minor, Op 8 No 1)
(CD8 track 1, 1:16-2:16) © 2019 Palazzetto Bru Zane :

In the area of piano music, I suggest again Marie Jaëlle's Apaisement from Ce qu'on entend dans le Paradis.

Listen — Marie Jaëlle: Apaisement (Ce qu'on entend dans le Paradis)
(CD9 track 11, 0:00-0:46) © 2019 Palazzetto Bru Zane :

Finally in the very French category of La Mélodie I recommend Tristesse de l'Odalisque by Félicien David.

Listen — Félicien David: Tristesse de l'Odalisque
(CD10 track 1, 0:01-1:00) © 2019 Palazzetto Bru Zane :

It is almost a mini course in French Romantic music, and well worth a try.

Copyright © 20 December 2019 Giuseppe Pennisi,
Rome, Italy




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