Released September 28, 2018
Composers: Maurice Ravel, Walter Boudreau, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Performers: National Arts Centre Orchestra, Alexander Shelley, Alain Lefèvre , Yosuke Kawasaki
Periods: Contemporary, 19th Century
Genres: Concerto, Orchestral Music, Piano
2020 – JUNO nomination for Classical Album of the Year: Large Ensemble 2020
The works on this recording paint stories in music, vividly evoking the characters, places, and periods that they depict.
Rimsky-Korsakov unfolds an epic tableau from One Thousand and One Nights as he conjures to life the brilliant and cunning Scheherazade, continually evading death and emerging victorious in her resistance against the evil Shahriar.
Using an equally grand musical canvas, Walter Boudreau explores the compelling life of visionary poet Claude Gauvreau. The piece was written for soloist Alain Lefèvre who, through the fiendishly challenging piano part, represents the character of the Québécois poet, ultimately finding redemption and transfiguration in death for this unique literary figure.
Ravel, a musical figure who in many ways links the Russian school of Rimsky-Korsakov with the Quebec inheritance of Boudreau, leaves us, in his miniature musical masterpiece, a perfect and enduring vision of a beautiful young princess, whose dance echoes through the ages.
© Alexander Shelley
Throughout his compositional career, Ravel turned often to the dance as inspiration for his music. One of his first successful works was the exquisite piano miniature Pavane pour une infante défunte, written in 1899 while the composer was still a student and dedicated to the Princess of Polignac, a noted patroness of the arts. In the composer’s words, “it is not a lament for a dead child, but an evocation of the pavane that might have been danced by a tiny princess such as was painted by Velázquez at the Spanish Court.” The Pavane’s popularity increased still more when the composer orchestrated it in 1910. In Ravel’s treatment of the pavane (a stately 16th-century Spanish court dance), we find a haunting, graceful melody set against a gently undulating rhythmic accompaniment. Strings are muted throughout, adding a touch of veiled mystery to the subtly archaic character.
The first performance of the Pavane was given by pianist Ricardo Viñes in Paris on April 5, 1902. Ravel himself recorded it in a Duo‑Art piano roll in 1922. The first performance of the orchestral version was conducted by Alfredo Casella on Christmas Day, 1911. The Pavane’s quaint charm, evocative mood, and idyllic tranquility have endeared it to millions.
The Concerto de l’asile (Asylum Concerto) grew out of a five-minute waltz Boudreau wrote as part of the incidental music for a staged production of Claude Gauvreau’s L’Asile de la pureté, written in 1953. Gauvreau (1925–1971) was a Montreal playwright and poet. He was also a polemicist, a member of the radical Automatist movement, and a signatory to the Refus Global manifesto (from which this release’s title is drawn: “The bounds of our dreams were changed forever”). For Boudreau, this concerto is a tribute to the avantgarde Quebec poet.
The title of the first movement, “Les oranges sont vertes,” (The Oranges are Green) refers to Gauvreau’s last major work, published posthumously in 1972. Musical material is passed back and forth between soloist and orchestra with seemingly little, if any, understanding between the two. As Boudreau describes it, “the first movement depicts the bridge between Gauvreau’s visionary poetic world (represented by the piano) and the obscurantist society of the time (the orchestra).” The piano cadenza at the end of this movement represents how Gauvreau goes mad and is treated with shock therapy and sedatives. The sedatives administered at the hospital in Saint-Jean-de-Dieu send Gauvreau into a world of bliss, depicted in the second movement.
A slow return to consciousness leads to the final movement. “La charge de l’orignal épormyable” (The Charge of the Expormidable Moose) is considered by many to be Gauvreau’s masterpiece. In this movement, the little waltz (“painfully sad, almost surrealistic,” as Alain Lefèvre describes it) that generated the whole concerto serves as a catalyst for the return of elements from the first movement. A funeral procession ensues, but the concerto ends in triumph and joy.
The two hundred or so dramatically linked stories that constitute the Thousand and One Nights (or Arabian Nights) originated in Eastern lands centuries ago. The stories were handed down over the years and embroidered by each storyteller in his or her own fashion. A raconteuse named Scheherazade provided a convenient framework on which to drape a rich and colourful tapestry of these stories, folk tales, poems, and dramatic narratives.
Having been outraged by his faithless wife, Persian king Shahriar resolved to avenge himself on the entire female population of his city. Each night he would marry a beautiful young woman, only to kill her the following day. After some time, a girl of exceptional charm, wit, and intelligence came forward with a plan to end this reign of terror. She offered herself to the King as his next bride, and the King gladly accepted, though he warned her that she would die on the following day. When bedtime approached, the girl began to relate an enthralling story to the King, but broke off just at the most exciting part, with a promise to continue the next day. The King postponed her execution so as to hear the outcome of this story, but the girl repeated her tactic the following night, and the night after that to a total of a thousand nights. By this time, she had borne him a son, the King had come to love her, and he finally renounced his categorical hatred of women. The Queen had in the meantime won the love and gratitude of the people as well, and they named her Scheherazade, which means “Saviour of the City.”
Rimsky-Korsakov, with his masterful ability to exploit dazzling orchestral colours and sonorities, was just the composer to set these tales to music. Scheherazade, his four-movement “narrative” of scenes from the Arabian Nights, was written during the summer of 1888. It was first performed in St. Petersburg on October 22, 1888 with the composer conducting. The recurring “voice” of the lovely, seductive, mysterious Scheherazade, represented by a sinuous theme played by the solo violin, is just one of the many tantalizing touches of orchestration found in the splendidly tinted score.
© Robert Markow