Saturday, 13 October 2012

Classic 100 Music of France - Day 7

What a fantastic conclusion to a wonderful countdown. No real surprises in what made it in but the order was a little unexpected.

The Bolero started us off. It's quite a divisive piece, lots of lovers and almost as many haters. I went through a period of disliking it, I don't think I ever hated it though. But through avoidance for a time and monitoring how often I listen to it now I've come to enjoy it again. I wouldn't say I love it but I do like it. In a good performance the build of the music is actually a wondrous thing which demonstrates Ravel's mastery over an orchestra I think. And done well I do feel compelled to air-conduct the last bits.

Songs of the Auvergne, as belatedly predicted. I will say, hearing more than just the mandatory Baillero which is on so many compilations, not every song in the collection is as saccharine and dull as it is. But they still do nothing for me.

Berlioz's master work, the Symphonie Fantastique, on the other hand. Well, given my love of dramatic music I think I need say no more really. A truly monumental work and an absolute thrill to listen to.

One slight surprise was that Debussy's Prelude a l'apres d'un faun (which I think I've been calling a pavane for a couple of days, put that down to Faure fever) came in at only No 6. I thought it would be top five for sure and expected it may even have won. It is such an amazing piece, it conjures a dreamscape unlike any other, just as the poem it's based on says it should. And from all accounts it was a revolutionary and inspirational piece at its time, setting the mood for the whole century to follow.

I confess I don't really know The Pearl Fishers, and while I don't mind the famous duet from it, it's not one of those few opera songs which has managed to grow on me yet anyway.

Satie's Gymnopedies ... what can I say? Utter beauty on the keyboard. The first is one of those quintessential swoon moments that takes time and stuffs it in a bin for a while, there is only the music. The other two are almost equally as tranquil and it's great to hear them played together.

Not only did Faure's Requiem come third, it was also the third requiem in the countdown. It has neither the dark landscape or Durufle or the drama of Berlioz, but resonates the peace and rest the others offer in part all the way through. It is a positive requiem if we can say that, death as culmination of life, as the coming of peace.

The last of my votes at No 2! Very happy with that, Saint-Saens Symphony No 3. With the exciting opening movement, the lovely breeze blowing in the slow second movement and of course the surprise organ at the end. It has it all, a masterpiece of innovation within a classical form. I really didn't think it would do this well so now maybe I should've voted for the Danse Macabre but ultimately I'm very happy with the overall outcome.

Which of course left Bizet's Carmen to take out the top spot. Deemed too scandalous even for the French at the time, he never got to see it succeed, must be a surprise to him to know just how popular it is. In the suite form I love it, slightly exotic flavour, lots of action, wonderful rhythms, a total delight. In the opera form I'm less thrilled but in this one a number of the songs have grown on me and I enjoy it a lot. A fitting finale to what was a tumultuous and rich musical countdown.

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