Tuesday 4 August 2015

Dazzling technique, bags of charm - Songs of Love, War and Melancholy

Songs of Love, War and Melancholy - Jacques-Francois Gallay
Jacques-Francois Gallay operatic fantasies; Anneke Scott, Lucy Crowe, Stephen Devine; Resonus Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 27 2015
Star rating: 5.0

Bravura techniques galore in this disc of early 19th century music for natural horn

Not so well known now, the name of Jacques-Francois Gallay was on everyone's lips in Paris in the 1820's, 30's and 40's. A horn player whose name was mentioned in the same breath as that of Paganini or Liszt, he played in the orchestra of the Theatre Italien as well as having a solo career and, like most virtuosi, was a prolific composer. Horn player Anneke Scott has already recorded Gallay's music (see my review) and here she continues her exploration with a disc on Resonus Classics of Gallay's operatic fantasies for horn and piano. So we have pieces based on Donizetti's Les Martyrs, Belisario, L'elisir d'amore, Bellini's Bianca e Fernando, La Sonnambula and Norma, plus songs based on arias by Donizetti and Mercadante. Anneke Scott plays on a period (Paris, 1823) horn is accompanied by Stephen Devine on 19th century Erard piano and they are joined by soprano Lucy Crowe for the songs.

Anneke Scott
Anneke Scott
Operatic fantasies were highly popular at the time, partly because they gave the performer a chance to demonstrate their skill in a popular melody and then add lots of embellishments. Though come commentators did moan and would have preferred original works, Gallay's performances of his own operatic fantasies were generally highly appreciated. As he worked at the Theatre Italien, most of the fantasies on the disc are based on works in which he played.

Fantasie brillante sur l'opera Les Martyrs de Donizetti, Op.49 is based on Donizetti's first opera written specifically for Paris which premiered at the Paris Opera in 1840 and Gallay published his fantasy in 1841. Fantasie sur une cavatine de Belisario de Donizetti, Op 42 is based on Donizetti's Belisario which premiered in Venice in 1836 and only arrived in Paris, at the Theatre Italien, in 1843, though Gallay's fantasy was published four years earlier. Bellini's Bianca e Fernando is an early work premiered in 1828 in Genoa and it never came to Paris but Gallay's  Fantasia sopra un motivo dell'opera Bianca e Fernando di Bellini, Op.47/2 was published by Ricordi in 1840. The only surviving scores are for cornet, but it is presumed that the original was for horn. Bellini's La Sonnambula appeared in 1831 and reached the Theatre Italien the next year. Gallay's Troisieme Melodie sur une cavatine de La Sonnambula de Bellini, Op. 28 was published in 1836 and is a shorter work than the longer, more developed fantasies. Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore premiered at La Scala in 1835 and reached Paris in 1836. Gallay's Fantasie sur l'opera L'Elisir d'amore de Donizetti, Op.46 was published in 1838 and is the longest piece on the disc, using a greater number of themes from the opera than Gallay was wont to do in his other works. Bellini's Norma premiered in 1831 and was at the Theatre Italien in 1835. Gallay's Fantasie brillante sur un motif de Norma de Bellini, Op.40 dates from 1835 and takes as its main theme Norma and Adalgisa's duet in Act II, Deh! Con te, con te li prendi.

Whilst most other countries were experimenting with improving the technology of horns by adding valves, France and Paris in particular stuck to using natural horns as the Paris Conservatoire had developed a superb reputation in hand techniques in horns and Parisian horn players were famed. As a result, music written at the time takes the hand techniques to the ultimate. The horn is played with a particular crook to put it into a specific key and then all the chromatic notes are created by fully or partially stopping the end of the bell with the hand. This means that if playing a chromatic scale, every note has a different colour. It also means that there are a variety of techniques which can colour and ornament notes.

Gallay's own prized horn was made by Lucien-Josepeh Raoux in 1821. The Raoux family was famous for its horns and on this disc we are lucky enough to hear Anneke Scott playing on an 1823 horn made by another member of the family, Marcel-August Raoux, which is now in the Bate Collection in Oxford. To accompany her Stephen Devine plays a 1851 Erard grand piano.

Whilst it is possible to imagine this music played on a modern valve horn, to hear it on such a period instrument is a revelation particularly in the hands of a player like Anneke Scott who seems to revel in the challenges which that hand-horn techniques bring. This is real virtuoso stuff and throughout the disc her playing sparkles and she brings the right sort of virtuoso brilliance to the music. Gallay's compositions are not the most sophisticated, but they have great charm yet rely on the performer's secure technique to bring them off. Here Anneke Scott and Stephen Devine dazzle and charm in just the right way. But there is a strength and a boldness to the playing too, with Anneke Scott bringing a real muscularity to the solo line.

The songs on the disc are in fact arrangements, as Gallay seems to keep the vocal line and do his own thing in the piano and horn part. There are a number accounts surviving of Gallay playing at soirees with singers of note. Une larme furtive (published in 1839) rather oddly takes Donizetti's Una furtiva lagrima from L'elisir d'amore and uses French words which change the gender of the narrator. Once you get over the shock, it has great charm. Fuis, laisse mois is based on the duet Da che tornasti from Donizetti's Roberto Devereux and here the soprano takes Sara's role whilst the horn takes Roberto's Mercadante's L'Appel du Chasseur was in fact a duet written for the sort of soirees at which Gallay played. Gallay's version reduces the vocal contribution and adds a number of horn calls.

I loved this disc, and the friend I played it to enjoyed it enormously too. Partly this is because we were simply dazzled by Anneke Scott's bravura control of a virtuoso technique, of a style which had long ago fallen out of consideration.

Jacques-Francois Gallay (1795-1864) - Fantasie brillante sur l'opera Les Martyrs de Donizetti, Op.49 [10.37]
Jacques-Francois Gallay (1795-1864) - Fantasie sur une cavatine de Belisario de Donizetti, Op 42 [9.08]
Jacques-Francois Gallay (1795-1864) - Fuis, laisse moi de Roberto Devereux de Donizetti [4.22]
Jacques-Francois Gallay (1795-1864) - Fantasia sopra un motivo dell'opera Bianca e Fernando di Bellini, Op.47/2 [6.08]
Jacques-Francois Gallay (1795-1864) - Troisieme Melodie sur une cavatine de La Sonnambula de Bellini, Op. 28 [6.16]
Jacques-Francois Gallay (1795-1864) -  Une larme furtive de L'Elisr d'amore de Donizetti [3.47]
Jacques-Francois Gallay (1795-1864) - Fantasie sur l'opera L'Elisir d'amore de Donizetti, Op.46 [12.03]
Jacques-Francois Gallay (1795-1864) - Fantasie brillante sur un motif de Norma de Bellini, Op.40 [10.42]
Jacques-Francois Gallay (1795-1864) - L'Appel du Chasseur des Soirees Italiennes de Mercadante [3.38]
Anneke Scott (natural horn)
Lucy Crowe (soprano)
Stephen Devine (piano)
Recorded at the Ruddock Performing Arts Centre, Birmingham, 16-19 August 2015

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