Monday 18 March 2019

Not heard since its 1956 premiere: Eugene Bozza's Le chant de la mine, with its hints of Florent Schmitt and Honegger, makes a fascinating revival

Eugene Bozza: Le chant de la mine - IndeSens
Eugene Bozza Le chant de la mine; Orchestre Valentiana, Nicolas Bucher; IndeSens Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 13 March 2019 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
With hints of Honegger and Florent Schmitt, Bozza's oratorio from the 1950s receives a rare revival

Eugene Bozza is not a particularly well known composer outside of his native France, though his output was large with significant amounts of wind chamber music alongside five symphonies, operas, ballets and more.

Born in Nice to an Italian violinist father and a French mother, he trained at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome, and at the Paris Conservatoire with Henri Busser (in fact his third period of study at the conservatoire having previously studied violin and then conducting). He won the Prix de Rome in 1934. From 1950 he was director of the Ecole Nationale de Musique in Valenciennes and it is during this period that, in 1956, he wrote Le chant de la mine; technically an oratorio, the work uses a spoken narration with text by the Belgian poet Jose Bruyr and the two regarded themselves as co-creators of the piece.

Eugene Bozza's Le chant de la mine was premiered in 1956 and not heard since, until the performance in Valenciennes in 2018 which forms the basis for this recording on the IndeSens label from the Orchestre Valentiana, conductor Nicolas Bucher, with soloists Zoe Gosset, Sarah Laulan, Sebastien Obrecht and Daniel Ottevaere, and narrator Didier Kerckaert.

Thanks to its coal, in the 19th century Valenciennes became a great industrial centre and the captial of France's Northern steel industry. It is this which is captured in Le chant de la mine, the piece tells the story of one day at a mine, a day not without tragedy. Bozza's music is full of references to French 20th century music and there are passages where Ravel and Debussy are clear influences. But it is the use of the spoken text and melodrama which gives the pieces its distinctive form and makes you think of a complex work like Honegger's Joan of Arc. And it is not just the long and complex role of narrator, here taken by Didier Kerckaert who is a member of the Comedie Francaise. The chorus also uses rhythmic speaking and chanting.

The performance captures the work's qualities well, and Kerckaert gives a fine account of the narration, combining well with the orchestra. The chorus occasionally seems somewhat challenged by the choral writing. The soloists are all creditable, but the CD booklet does not give enough detail of the work to know who does what. But everyone gives a good taste of this fascinating work, but the music's influences, Debussy, Ravel and particularly Florent Schmitt, hardly place it in the avant garde of the 1950s, but this is a worthy revival

Eugene Bozza (1905-1991) - Le chant de la mine
Didier Kerckaert (narrator)
Orchestre Valentiana
Nicolas Bucher (conductor)
Recorded 11-13 April 2018, Valenciennes
INDESENS INDE120 1CD [51.15]

Available on-Line.

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