France

France—Ropartz/Caplet
Joseph-Guy Ropartz
Joseph-Guy Ropartz is my French discovery of the decade, thanks to
the Timpani label, which introduced me to his Quartets nos. 4–6,
played by the Quartet Stanislas (1C1115). This strikes me as some of
the finest French chamber music I have heard from the period between
Frank, Fauré, and Ravel. Even more striking is Ropartz’ Piano
Trio (1918), in which he successfully sought to capture impressions
of his beloved Brittany. The first movement is a wonderfully effective
evocation of the surging sea, as put forth by the Trio Hochelaga on
Atma Classique (ACD2 2542). Atma also offers us a Piano Quartet
and a Piano Quintet by Ropartz’ teacher, Theodore Dubois, another
neglected Frenchman, who is perhaps best known today for his choral work The Seven Last Words. These two works are meltingly lovely and completely charming, as played by an augmented Trio Hochelaga 2138 (ACD2 2385).
André Caplet
André Caplet (1878–1925) is primarily remembered for having orchestrated
some of Debussy’s works, such as Children’s Corner and Clair de
Lune (as can be heard, along with some of Caplet’s own orchestral
works, on Marco Polo 8.223751). Yet Caplet was an original in his
own right who drew his inspiration primarily from his deep Catholic
Faith. His music is highly transparent, utilizes an extraordinary economy
of means, and expresses intense purity with a delicate lyricism.
The sensibility is typically French in its lightness of touch and its ability to convey profundity without heaviness. Marco Polo (225043) offers
one of Caplet’s religious masterpieces in a remarkable performance. Le
Miroir de Jesus is a setting of poems by Henri Ghéon (from whom Frank
Martin drew the text for his great oratorio Le Mystere de la Nativite)
that offer meditations on each of the joyful, sorrowful, and glorious
mysteries of the Rosary. This work for mezzo-soprano, female chorus,
harp, and string quartet reminds me of the finest medieval miniature
ivory carvings sculpted for private devotion. Plainchant and impressionism
meld seamlessly together in this exquisite creation. On the Accord label (204402—not currently available), Caplet’s Mass for unaccompanied three-part women’s choir is also a tender, highly refined work that incorporates the Medieval into the modern. (Upon hearing it, I immediately thought that Francis Poulenc must have listened carefully to this masterpiece before composing his equally fine Mass in G in 1937.) Caplet’s epigraph for the Mass is a verse from Psalm 19: ‘‘In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun’’. Caplet asked that his Mass be performed in May in a chapel flooded with sunlight, and it seems as if this Mass itself is made of light. The CD also contains Caplet’s extremely beautiful settings of a number of prayers, including Panis Angelicus and Pie Jesu.

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