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CD booklet
Gaîté parisienne

Audio Video Club of Atlanta
February 20, 2019

Under the baton of Fabien Gabel, the Orchestre symphonique de Québec gives us a program of consistently sparkling, frequently impudent, and occasionally sad music by three composers who registered their takes on Parisian gaiety, and otherwise had little in common.

Maurice Ravel’s enduringly piquant Noble and Sentimental Waltzes (Valses nobles et sentimentales) reflected his lifelong fascination for the waltz genre. The eight polished gems in the orchestral version range from languid to lively in character and are filled with witty surprises in the way of harmonic and rhythmic contrasts. Gabel is constantly attuned to Ravel’s descriptive markings of these undeniably French and modern waltzes as guides to their interpretation: Modéré, Assez Lent, Modéré, Assez animé, Presque lent, Assez vif, Moins vif.

Francis Poulenc composed Les Biches to a commission for “a kind of modern Sylphides, a ballet of atmosphere.” His response to this vague request was to create a series of tableaux in a contemporary drawing room, depicting the pleasures of love and sensual delight epitomized by la Vie gai. The title Les Biches has the double meaning of “does” and kept women in a decadent social milieu.

The music has the worldliness and range of moods we often associate with Poulenc. The central tableau, “Rag-Mazurka,” an incongruous combination of two music genres, starts off up-beat and extroverted, but darker undertones begin to emerge. At the very end, I pictured a semi-mondaine sitting before her mirror late in the evening after the excitement has passed, wondering if the joy in her life as a soubrette is really worth its downside.

Gaite Parisienne (Parisian Gayety), the title work of the album, is the name of the suite compiled in later years by conductor Manuel Rosenthal (1904–2003) from the operas and ballets of Jacques Offenbach. These are among the world’s favorite pieces by Offenbach, including a rambunctious Polka, a catchy little march (Tempo di marcia), a Quadrille that is more infectious and lively than the formal 18th century dance would suggest, and a Valse lente that is the epitome of the slow waltz genre. And of course there’s the famous (or is it infamous?) CanCan from Orpheus in the Underworld. It is heard three times, as the original CanCan of the opera, as an Allegro on Tr. 18, and finally reprised in the course of the sublime Barcarolle from Tales of Hoffman, where its presence is rather strange, to say the least. (But perhaps Offenbach himself would have approved?)

© 2019 Audio Video Club of Atlanta

January 10, 2019

Fabien Gabel’s first release on ATMA Classique offers a gala showcase of orchestral music by Maurice Ravel, Francis Poulenc, and Jacques Offenbach, brilliantly performed by the Orchestre Symphonique de Québec. The featured work, Gaîté Parisienne, is an effervescent ballet arranged by Manuel Rosenthal on themes from Offenbach’s operettas, and this bright and energetic performance rivals popular recordings by Arthur Fiedler, Erich Kunzel, and even Rosenthal’s own rendition, both in buoyant humor and vibrant sound. Even though Ravel’s orchestral version of Valses nobles et sentimentales and Poulenc’s suite from his neoclassical ballet Les Biches are somewhat less sparkling in tone and less infectiously tuneful, they still share some of Gaîté Parisienne’s elegance and charm, as well as the French sensibility for refined orchestration which pervades this light program. ATMA Classique’s recording is finely detailed and rather close to the musicians, and the dry acoustics of the Salle Louis-Fréchette at the Grand Théatre de Québec contribute a noiseless background. Highly recommended.

© 2018 

January 10, 2019

The Quebec Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1902 and is the oldest active orchestra in Canada. Its home is in Quebec City. The ensemble has a long history of supporting Canadian composers in addition to affirming its rich French heritage which has lent it a “French America” sound. Among its music directors have been Pierre Devaux, James DePreist, Yoav Talmi, and, as of 2012, Fabien Gabel. During the latter’s tenure, the orchestra has begun exploring traditional symphonic French repertoire and larger-scale pieces by the likes of Mahler, Strauss, and Beethoven. Here the ensemble tackles 20th Century French music with ties to dance (Ravel), ballet (Poulenc), and operetta (Rosenthal’s adaptation of Offenbach’s music). The recording is taken from concerts at the end of this past May.

Ravel’s (1875–1937) orchestration of his 8 Valses nobles et sentimentales (1912, from the 1911 piano work) is one of the composer’s homages to the music of Schubert. There are over 100 recordings of this popular work which was premiered by the great Pierre Monteux. The pieces here lend their own misdirects to impressionist and early 20th Century French musical style but begin to illustrate Ravel’s own exploration of dissonance in his music. Gabel takes a slightly relaxed feel to the opening movement but articulations are crisp and clean here. The slight sheen is allowed to come forward more in the gorgeous “Assez lent” second movement where the restraint helps the colors unfold beautifully. He brings out the light, dance-like quality of this music quite well. The climaxes do not feel as forced as some performances as Gabel lets the music do the work with attention to the subtle crescendo and decrescendo moments that lend the music its energy and sense of joie de vivre. More importantly, the recording helps show off the ensemble’s fine wind section and overall responsive ensemble playing. Textures work so very well here as a result of the clean ensemble. Balance also is stunning.

The ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev is responsible for some of the 20th Centuries most famous works. In 1923, he commissioned Francis Poulenc (1899–1963) to provide music for Les Biches and the composer would extract five pieces into the suite heard here. Neo-Classical style blends with the more romantic melodies in this Les Six aesthetic. Jazz harmony and rhythms, hints of Mozart’s “Prague” symphony, and even Stravinsky’s Pulcinella all roll into this truly delightful work. The satirical opening “Rondeau”—at a nice clip here, the gorgeously-scored “Adagietto”, the delightful “Rag-Mazurka”, the all too brief “Andantino” and the witty finale all make for an engaging work. Brass get a little chance to pop out of the texture here serving with great sarcasm. Indeed, the humor of the music is captured excellently throughout.

The French operetta would become one of the most popular theater experiences of the 19th Century with its influences felt in the works of Gilbert and Sullivan and in early American musical theater. Jacques Offenbach’s (1819–1880) delightful, light writing for these many stories always included delightful dances and engaging melodies that are often encapsulated in his overtures. Leonide Massine conceived a ballet that would reference this lost world of France’s better days in his Gaite Parisienne (1938). The thin story line is set in the Second Empire in a Parisian café with its various patrons being depicted through Offenbach’s delightful tunes. Massine commissioned arrangements of Offenbach’s music from Roger Desormiere but he handed this off to the young Manuel Rosenthal (1904–2003) who would create one of the more popular orchestral arrangements of his career, often overshadowing his own original work. Sixteen selections from the complete ballet are presented here. It is sort of like having a host of encores for this most guilty of pleasures. The orchestra dives into these familiar tunes with great relish. Here the light, clean articulation really makes this shine and one can marvel at the textures of this work. In Gabel’s hands this feels like a fresh piece.

The recording is crisp and a little dry. Performances here all sparkle though may feel a little distant at times. There is no denying the excellent capability of the Quebec players and their technical virtuosity. This is then a fine album of French music that features some great repertoire pieces all of which can be found in various combinations. But it is a testament to where the orchestra is at today with an album of pieces that should have great and wide appeal. That said, the price of it is worth it for the Poulenc alone.

© 2018 Cinemusical

December 3, 2018

4 ****
L’Orchestre symphonique de Québec fait preuve de qualités tout à fait remarquables, et comporte manifestement des solistes de bon niveau. Fabien Gabel s’inscrit dans une tradition orchestrale française, privilégiant la transparence des cordes, la netteté des plans et les sonorités fruitées des vents.

Jacques Bonnaure - Revue Classica

Full review : HERE

The WholeNote
September 27, 2018

The final disc this month provides a bit of a “guilty pleasure”or at least a nostalgic trip down memory lane. I believe I first heard Offenbach’s Gaîté parisienne in my early teenage years on my mother’s Reader’s Digest collection of great classical favourites (I don’t remember the exact title, but it was about ten LPs and had more or less what you’d expect in a sampler). A new ATMA release by the Orchestre Symphonique de Québec under the direction of Fabien Gabel – Gaîté Parisienne (ACD2 2757 – features that cancan-filled work along with Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales and Poulenc’s suite from Les Biches in spirited performances. Paris-born Gabel, director of the OSQ since 2012, brings with him an innate love and understanding of French repertoire as witnessed in this, OSQ’s fifth ATMA, and 25th overall release, recorded live in Salle Louis-Frèchette, Grand Théâtre de Québec in May of this year.

Ravel’s love of the waltz, “You know my great liking for these wonderful rhythms,” resulted in a set of eight piano pieces in 1911, titled in homage to Schubert who had published two collections, Valses nobles and Valses sentimentales. Ravel orchestrated his set and in 1914 it was premiered under the direction of the legendary Pierre Monteux (who incidentally conducted the OSQ in 1962). Less well known is Poulenc’s ballet suite, but it provides an appropriate bridge to the final work that is the icing on the cake, Offenbach’s Gaîté parisienne, created in 1938 for Les Ballets de Monte Carlo with choreography from Léonide Massine, one of the leading lights of the former Ballet Russes. We are here presented with a half-hour long suite arranged at Massine’s request, by Manuel Rosenthal drawing on th best of Offenbach’s operettas, although primarily La vie parisienne. It ends with the gorgeous Barcarolle from Les contes d’Hoffmann, and a
good time is had by all!

David Olds - The Wholenote