Songs of Love, War and Melancholy

Songs of Love, War and Melancholy
the operatic fantasies of Jacques-François Gallay
Anneke Scott, natural horn, Steven Devine, piano, Lucy Crowe, soprano
Resonus Classics. RES10153 66’41 

Fantaisie brillante sur l’opéra ‘Les Martyrs’ de Donizetti (Op. 49),
Fantaisie sur une cavatine de ‘Belisario’ de Donizetti (Op. 42),
‘Fuis, laisse-moi’ de ‘Roberto Devereux’ de Donizetti,
Fantasia sopra un motivo dell’opera ‘Bianca e Fernando’ di Bellini (Op. 47/2),
Troisième Mélodie sur une cavatine de ‘La Sonnambula’ de Bellini (Op. 28),
‘Une Larme Furtive’ de ‘L’Elisir d’amore’ de Donizetti,
Fantaisie sur l’opéra ‘L’Elisir d’amore’ de Donizetti (Op. 46),
Fantaisie brillante sur un motif de ‘Norma’ de Bellini (Op. 40),
‘L’Appel du Chasseur’ des ‘Soirées Italiennes’ de Mercadante.

This CD explores the fascinating (and little-known) world of the French ‘opera fantasy’, an early to mid 19th century musical genre where leading instrumentalists, already well-used to having to create their own repertoire, arranged extracts from Italian operas for their own instrument. One of the leading exponents of that art was the renowned principal horn-player of the Théâtre Italian, Jacques-François Gallay. Five of his opera Fantasias, one shorter but similar piece called Mélodie, and three song arrangements are featured on this CD, the third in a series resulting from horn-player Anneke Scott’s award of a scholarship from the Gerald Finzi Trust to investigate Gallay’s music.

Based on operas by Bellini and Donizetti, the Fantasies for horn and piano are substantial works (three last for more than 10 minutes) that far supersede the rather innocuous reason for their existence. Although the single Mélodie (sur une cavatine de ‘La Sonnambula’ de Bellin) is closer to a transcription, the five Fantasies are well-constructed works drawing on several passages from the relevant opera. The opening Fantaisie brillante sur l’opéra ‘Les Martyrs’ de Donizetti¸ for example, starts with a subdued and rather dark piano introduction (quoting from the Act III Chœur et Finale ‘Hymne à Juptier)  and a horn recitative passage before incorporating several arias from Act II into a substantial and musically coherent multi-section piece.  In contrast, the following Fantaisie sur une cavatine de ‘Belisario’ de Donizetti is based on a single extended aria from Act II of the opera.

In the first of the three examples of Gallay’s song settings (Fuis, laisse-moi from Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux), the singer (Lucy Crowe) takes the vocal line, while the horn combines elements from the orchestral bassoon, clarinet and horn lines. In the second setting (Une Larme Furtive from L’Elisir d’amore), the horn takes up one of the lines of a duet. The final song setting is the very appropriate L’Appel du Chasseur’ based on the tenor duet Alla caccia (‘To the hunt’) from Mercadante’s Soirées Italiennes. The theme of hunting has obvious horn implications; not least that Mercadante opened the opera with a horn solo, played by Gallay himself. The original duet is generally reduced to a single vocal line, with occasional horn contributions, but with added hunting-horn flourishes.

Gallay was performing and composing at a time when the natural horn was beginning to be overtaken by the valve-horn, although in France the progress of the newer horn was delayed by the extraordinary hand techniques developed by natural horn players. The latter is very evident in the outstanding performance here by Anneke Scott, one of the leading natural horn players around today. She produces some wonderfully plangent tone colours resulting from the technique of tuning and pitching notes by using her hand in the bell of the horn. Although the tone of any valve horn inevitably varies between notes, Anneke Scott manages to achieve impeccable tuning.  Her playing, and that of Stephen Devine, has a natural musicality that is particularly noticeable in the way they both apply an easy flexibility to the flow of the music. Soprano Lucy Crowe’s three contributions are similarly noteworthy.

The performers’ choice of instruments is particularly apt; Anneke Scott plays an 1823 Marcel-Auguste Raoux natural horn dating from 1823 (from Oxford University’s Bate Collection), a very similar instrument to Gallay’s own 1821 Raoux horn, now in the Paris Conservatoire. Steven Devine plays an 1851 Érard grand piano loaned by the University of Birmingham, where this recording was made.

Even if you are not a lover of the operas of Bellini and Donizetti, these transformations into delightful and dramatic pieces for saloon and soirée are well worth exploring.

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