Thanks to two recitals by Mireille Delunsch on Timpani, we’ve tasted already the melancholic lyricism that marks the song writing style of Vierne, who represents a halfway point between Chausson and Fauré. The fact that the composer was intimately linked with several female singers, and that his life was a succession of personal tragedies probably goes some way to explain that. So in 1931, at the end of his life, Vierne wouldn’t have had any difficulty in identifying himself with the disconsolate protagonist in Henry Murger’s Ballade, ‘expressing in turn rebellion, lost illusions then resignation in an expressionist atmosphere quite uncommon in French music of that time’ reveals Jacques Tchamkerten in his liner notes. Of the four exhumed works, valiantly performed here by Steve Davislim and Guillaume Tourniaire, this penultimate piece is the most poignant.
The vibrantly coloured orchestral fabric is patterned with remarkably assured solos from members of The Queensland Orchestra. Unfolding in short sequences, the scoring ranges from extraordinary, even satiric opulence (an ironically splendid Immortality in Ballade du désespéré) to moments comprised of infinite sadness. In Eros or Psyché, the feelings of love are a like fragile dream veiled with tension and propelling one towards self-destruction, ‘a divine dancer driven towards death’. Surely Davislim’s strained top notes are effective in this context ... the tenor maintains the intelligibility of his words, with appreciable finesse in expression— as when he switches from one character to the other in the Ballade du désespéré, depicting their respective frames of mind, or when he realises the terror of the passive spectator in Les Djinns to whom hope is finally restored.
In the autumn of 1914 there was nothing anodyne in choosing to set this poem by Victor Hugo. The destructive whirlwinds of the malevolent spirits inspire many concrete resonances. Not only because one can hear the exploding pine trees, the ground shaking, the hail striking the rooftops or the resounding “Arabian horn”.
Everything is formidably performed by the Australian musicians and a young French conductor ...