Wednesday, January 07, 2009
It often grieves me that there are so fiew recordings of the music of the walloon composer André Ernest Modeste Grétry (1741-1813), -let alone on period instruments...
Grétry was only a name to me when this wonderful dvd came out a couple of years ago, it's titled "La Petite Musique de Marie-Antoinette" and is a filmed concert from Marie-Antoinette's little private theatre at Trianon. With the orchestra Les Agrémens lead by the belgian clarinet virtuoso, Guy van Waas.
Truly delightful ballet music and symphonies, interspersed by a fiew arias and duets by Grétry and his fellow walloon François-Joseph Gossec (1734-1829) sung by the soprano Sophie Karthäuser and the baritone Jean-Yves Pruvot. An absolutely lovely concert in this charming little theatre -where we see the "ghost" of Marie-Antoinette (in a rather horrible wig!) appearing here and there. There is also a documentary about the theatre itself.
Then i discovered that the belgian label Ricercar had released a couple of cds with the same orchestra - and leader, playing music by both Grétry and Gossec, one titled "Grétry - Airs et Ballets" with pretty much the same programme as on the dvd and also Karthäuser singing the airs, and then two with symphonies op. XII and VIII by Gossec, and this one with symphonies for various solo instruments by both Grétry and Gossec - as well as by Dieudonné-Pascal Pieltain (1754-1833) and Antoine-Frédéric Gresnick (1755-1799) - two other Walloons working in paris at the same time. I't just gorgeous music, beautifully performed - so beautiful and so redolent of everything one loves about the 18th century. Complete and uncomplicated pleasure!
...And then; this summer Ricercar re-released a live-recording from 1991 with Ricercar Academy lead by Marc Minkowski (an old favourite of mine!) of Grétry's opéra ballet "La Caravane du Caire" -wich had it's premiere at Fontainebleau on the 30th of October in 1783. A sort of "the abduction of the Seraglio" story set in Egypt. It's an absolutely dazzling recording with infectuous dance music as well as a fiew excerpts of the music for d'Hele's comédie "Le Jugement de Midas" from 1778, with La Petite Bande under the baton of Gustav Leonhardt and recorded in 1980. I cordially recommend them all!
I am still not satisfied of course; for there is still no decent recording of Grétry's most famous work, the comédie-ballet "Zémire et Azor" from 1771, libretto by Marmontel -whom Grétry often worked with - a lighthearted beauty and the beast story in a middle eastern setting. The only existing recording is a rather boring one from the 1970s, on modern instruments conducted by Edgard Doneux - sheer elevator music!
I actually saw Zémire et Azor when it was given at Drottningholm in the summer of 1993, conducted by Louis Langrée. I was eleven and went with my mother and her friend whom i always thought incredibly chic - at that time i wouldn't have cared enough to know Grétry from any other composer... It was first performed there in 1778, seven years after it's creation.
The story is of Sander, travelling along with his servant Ali. Shipwrecked they find themselves on an island with a magnificent garden and palace - wich appears to be deserted, it's great hall set for a banquet - but they don't see a living soul, they help themselves to the buffet...
-Sander has three daughters back home: Fatmé, Lisbé and Zémire, his favourite. Before leaving he promised them gifts; Fatmé and Lisbé wished for lace and fine ribbons but all Zémire asked for was a rose...in a charming trio sung by the sisters; "Veillons, mes soeurs"
-So In the garden of the palace Sander picks the most beautiful rose he can find for Zémire and is then stopped by a beast-like man, Azor - really a transformed prince and the owner of the palace. Azor says that Zander must pay with his life for stealing the rose...unless he can persuade one of his daughters to take his place. Zémire agrees to sacrifice her life for her fathers and Ali takes her to the palace. She almost faints with terror upon seeing him. Here is Azor's aria: "Du moment qu'on aime" -sung by Rufus Wainwright (!) from the film "L'age des ténèbres" by Denys Arcand:
But Azor appears to be a proper gentleman and shows Zémire her family back home in a magic mirror...the scene depicted below, by Pehr Hilleström from the swedish production in 1778. (i apologise for the poor quality)
-Zémire even gets to visit her family as long as she promises to always return to Azor.
When she returns from one of those visits, she finds him in despair as he thinks that she has abandoned him, she protests that she cares for him -and the magic spell on Azor is lifted now that he has found someone who loves him, and so he is turned into his old, handsome self and claims his kingdom - with Zémire as his consort. And then they live happily ever after...
I only wish that some period instruments ensemble would record it!
"Nina ou Les Ennuis de l'absence"
Niclas Lafrensen, le Jeune (1737-1807)