Massenet: Dreams and other music for orchestra
After the fine Naxos disc of Cesar Franck’s music released in July was polished by the RSNO and French conductor Jean-Luc Tingaud, their active sessions at the RSNO Centre in Glasgow in August 2019 went directly to explore some dusty corners of the catalog of Jules Massenet.
Massenet was a man of dramatic music throughout his life, the composer of one of the most famous party pieces, the Meditation from his opera Thais, as well as two regularly performed operas (out of 27 he wrote), Manon and Werther. Two theatrical openings, Brumaire, from 1900, and the earlier Phedre (1873), begin and end with this song, but the main interest is in between.
The title piece is a concert piece. With its use of drone keyboards (harmonium and the recently created and now outdated “poeme-symphonique”) and a wordless, ethereal soprano voice (Royal Conservatoire of Scotland graduate Poppy Shotts) to create a special atmosphere, the 14-minute “electrophone” Visions is revolutionary for 1891. For harp and violin, there is also a passage that may be the prototype for this popular meditation.
The short ballet suite Espada, four movements totaling 10 minutes, comes from late in his career, further highlighting the French talent for writing Spanish music with the tale of a toreador and his doomed lover.
The longest work in the collection shows that there was a well-developed melodic gift for the younger Massenet. The Incidental Music for Les Erinnyes, a French adaptation of the Oresteia of Aeschylus, is a rather colorful half-hour featuring the first cello by the RSNO, Aleksei Kiseliov, on the beautiful Invocation.