Massenet: Visions and other orchestral music


WHEN the RSNO and French conductor Jean-Luc Tingaud had polished off the fine Naxos disc of the music of Cesar Franck that was released in July, their productive sessions in the RSNO Centre in Glasgow in August 2019 moved straight on to exploring some dusty corners of the catalogue of Jules Massenet.

The composer of one of the violin’s most popular party-pieces, the Meditation from his opera Thais, as well as two regularly-staged operas (of 27 he wrote) in Manon and Werther, Massenet was a man of dramatic music all his life. This album begins and ends with two theatrical overtures, Brumaire, from 1900, and the earlier Phedre (1873), but its main interest lies in between.

The title work is a concert piece, the 14-minute “poeme-symphonique” Visions cutting edge for 1891 in its use of drone keyboards (harmonium and the recently-invented and now obsolete “electrophone”) and a wordless ethereal soprano voice (Royal Conservatoire of Scotland graduate Poppy Shotts) to create a special atmosphere. There is also a passage for harp and violin that may well be the prototype for that famous Meditation.

From late in his career is the short ballet suite Espada, four movements clocking in at 10 minutes in total that further illustrate the French gift for writing Spanish music, with the tale of a toreador and his doomed paramour.

The longest work of the set proves that the younger Massenet had well-developed melodic gifts. The Incidental Music for Les Erinnyes, a French adaptation of the Oresteia of Aeschylus, is very colourful half hour, with RSNO first cello Aleksei Kiseliov featured on the lovely Invocation.

Keith Bruce