Gounod: The complete works for pedal piano & orchestra
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Movement 1: Entrée de fête: Moderato maestoso
Movement 2: Chasse: Allegro con fuoco
Movement 3: Romance: Andante cantabile
Movement 4: Tarentelle: Vivace
The score is conceived as a sweeping fresco, giving pride of place to clarity, simplicity and a wholesome brio. After the neoclassical flavour of the opening tutti, Entrée de fête, a deliciously frivolous motif precedes the reprise of the first theme by the soloist. But this restatement is elliptical and modulatory, leading to a succession of parallel sixth chords that introduce the second theme: a long flowing, undulating melody sung by the left hand.
The evocation of the hunt in the horns and strings of the Chasse is thoroughly realistic. The piano takes up these formulas and soon launches into galloping figuration. A harsh ‘mort’ on the pedal-board gives the signal for a second crescendo, grimmer and more concise, modulating and rising to fortissimo. Then the strings establish a meditative mood. The piano responds with a cantabile theme in almost choral style, shifting curiously from the religious to the galant. The orchestra takes up the cantabile theme, accompanied by arpeggios from the soloist. Anguished tremolos bring back the hunting motif, which bursts forth in a fortissimo tutti. This recurrence of the initial motif is the starting point for a true development in which the full forces are deployed.
A chain of modulating arpeggiated chords provides a transition to the Romance. A long introverted clarinet theme, prolonged and intensified by the strings, prepares the entry of the piano. It is tempting to consider the central section as an ornamented free variation of the opening theme, in which the soloist emerges from the amiably supportive orchestra in a highly Mozartian style of pianism. Halfway through, the accompaniment is reduced to almost no more than the Alberti bass in the violas. Thus, when the violins take up the opening theme of the first section, it seems natural that the piano should accompany it with that same Alberti bass, as in Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ Concerto. The cadenza, which extends over a tonic pedal in the horns, sets the ethereal piano against the melancholy song of the lower woodwind in one of those valedictory atmospheres whose secret Gounod found in Mozart.
The piano leads the way in the Tarentelle, for the orchestra seems merely to cling to its coat-tails. When the flutes and clarinets, in flowing parallel thirds, impose C major over a double pedal point, the effect is like a ray of sunshine that increases the tension: modulations, crescendo, chromaticisms, rapid exchanges between the sections of the orchestra and the soloist up to an imposing fortissimo over 6–4 harmonies that are maintained virtually until the conclusion.
from notes by Gérard Condé © 2013
English: Charles Johnston