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NA 3124
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NA 3124

MASSENET: Orchestral Suites Nos. 1- 3 / Herodiade

The Classical Shop
release date: August 2008

Originally recorded in 2008


New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Jean-Yves Ossonce


Frank Douglas

Record Label



Total Time - 69:06
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1 I. Les Egyptiennes 1:35
2 II. Les Babyloniennes 1:42
3 III. Les Gauloises 1:34
4 IV. Les Pheniciennes 2:50
5 V. Final 1:55

Suite No. 1, Op. 13

6 I. Pastorale et fugue 5:48
7 II. Variations 5:10
8 III. Nocturne 5:42
9 IV. Marche et strette 6:30

Scenes hongroises, "Suite No. 2"

10 I. Allegro risoluto 3:39
11 II. Allegretto leggiero 6:18
12 III. Allegro risoluto 1:52
13 IV. Andante 3:24
14 V. Allegro risoluto 2:27

Scenes dramatiques, "Suite No. 3"

15 I. Prelude et divertissement 6:09
16 II. Melodrame 4:30
17 III. Scene finale 8:01
 Jean-Yves Ossonce

  Massenet’s orchestral suites go back to the mid-1860s. The first suite was written in Venice in 1865 and first performed on 24th March 1867 at a Pasdeloup concert. It was listed as Symphonie en fa in the official report, when it was submitted as a necessary envoi from Italy, in fulfilment of the terms of the Prix de Rome. An early work, the suite nevertheless demonstrates the composer’s command of sensual richness and dramatic subtlety that would contribute to the fascinating opera Esclarmonde or the brilliant Cendrillon. In 1868 after a further performance of the suite by Pasdeloup the critic Albert Wolff found an opportunity for wit at Massenet’s expense, claiming such a poor reception for what he described as a symphony that the wretched little thing had to be carried off to the nearest chemist’s to be revived and then taken home again by its composer. Controversy followed, with Massenet himself insisting that the work was a suite, not a symphony, and the eminent Theodore Dubois complaining at the cruel treatment of a young composer by an established critic. The four movements open with a Pastorale leading to a fugue, followed by generally gentle variations, a fine evocation of night in a Nocturne and an energetic final movement that eventually returns to the pastoral theme of the opening.
  The other orchestral suites are generally descriptive, in one way or another. The second, Scènes hongroises, was first performed by Pasdeloup in November 1871 and welcomed by the critic Arthur Pougin in somewhat patronising terms as "picturesque". Massenet explained in a letter to a friend that the suite was in fact an orchestral arrangement of four piano pieces for four hands and something he himself did not value very highly, although he was happy with the orchestration at this time he still had in mind the composition of a symphony, but he withdrew his only attempt at the form, after hearing a reading under Pasdeloup, who held Tuesday morning rehearsals of new compositions, from which he would choose items for his popular Sunday concerts. The suite is given the programme of a Hungarian wedding Entrée en forme de danse, Intermède, Adieux à la fiancée, Cortège, Bénédiction nuptiale and Sortie de l’eglise. (Entry in the form of a dance, Intermezzo, Farewell to the Betrothed, Procession and Nuptial Blessing, Leaving the Church). There is an opening Magyar dance, a gentle Intermède, a forthright farewell to the betrothed and a splendidly orchestrated simulation of the church organ in the wedding procession and blessing, before the couple leave the church.
  The third of Massenet’s suites, Scènes dramatiques, was written in the summer and early autumn of 1874, based on Shakespeare It was first performed under Ernest Deldevez at the Concerts du Conservatoire in January 1875 and later formed part of a Pasdeloup programme. The original third movement, Ronde nocturne dan, le jardin de Juliette was dropped, to form part of a set of Improvisations for piano. The remaining three movements start with La Tempête (Ariel et le, esprits) (The Tempest: Ariel and the Spirits), followed by Le Sommeil de Desdémone (The sleep of Desdemona) and Macbeth (Les sorciers; Le festin; L’apparition; Couronnement du Roi Malcolm; Fanfares) (Macbeth the witches; the banquet; the ghost; crowning of King Malcolm; fanfares). These original titles were changed by the composer into the less specific Prélude et divertissement, Mélodrame and scene finale.
  The first movement opens with an impressive storm, reflecting the event that is at the heart of Shakespeare’s play. From this the mercurial Ariel and other spirits of the island emerge. The dream of Desdemona won the most applause at the early performances of the suite, an evocation of the tender innocence of the tragic heroine and of the fate that awaits her at the hands of her jealous husband Othello. The third movement opens dramatically with the thunder, lightning and rain suggested by the witches who meet Macbeth as he comes from battle. The banquet given by Macbeth, who, having murdered the king, has now usurped the throne of Scotland, is presented in grandiose terms, before the appearance of the ghost of the murdered Banquo, visible only to ills murderer, Macbeth. The movement ends as Malcolm, son of the old king, is crowned king, after the defeat and death of Macbeth.

"Ossonce prefers a more relaxed approach, which wears well on repeated listening."

Gramophone magazine

"The playing of the New Zealand orchestra is first class, polished and vivid."

The Penguin Guide

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