Alfred Bruneau’s Oh So Serious Orchestral Bits, Again

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 6

Sound Quality: 8

This release duplicates exactly a somewhat more lively recording of the same repertoire on Marco Polo featuring James Lockhart and the Rhenish Philharmonic Orchestra. To be honest, Naxos needn’t have bothered doing it again. The music just isn’t that interesting. Bruneau (1857-1934) was an earnest, well-trained, and important composer for the theater in turn-of-the-20th-century France. He wrote in a resolutely post-Wagnerian style: strings alternatively seraphic and passionate, rippling harps, earnest brass chorales, and climaxes capped by delayed cymbal crashes for extra oomph. This formula is applied so routinely that you can predict exactly where the music is going after the first few minutes of any of these operatic excerpts. Among much beautiful texture, there’s not a single memorable idea anywhere. The music is like one of those gorgeous looking bakery cakes that turns out to be virtually flavorless.

The most interesting piece here is the ballet (Act III, Tableau I) from Messidor, subtitled “The Golden Legend,” since at least that requires an emphasis on rhythm that gives the music a vigorous pulse–albeit amid much pointless repetition. It lasts a good half an hour, but seems much longer. The suite from L’Attaque du moulin (“The Attack on the Mill”) also has nice moments, but the central war episode isn’t terribly threatening, and as I said, Lockhart played all of this music with just that much more urgency than does Darrell Ang here. And believe me, the music needs all of the life you can inject into it. Tovey once snidely called Saint-Saëns, “the greatest composer who wasn’t a genius,” but the truth is that music history is littered with composers important in their day who, however well trained and sincere, were not geniuses, and Bruneau was certainly one of them. Hearing his music you can readily understand why no one bothers with him now. Sad, but true.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None

    Orchestral Music from Messidor; L'Attaque du moulin; Naïs Micoulin

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