OP0570. LA VIÈRGE (Massenet), Live Performance, 1990, w. Fournillier Cond. Prague Ensemble; Michèle Commande, Marie-Thérèse Keller, Maryse Castets, Mario Hacquard, Martine Olmeda & Philip Salmon. (Austria) 2-Koch-Schwann 313084, w.39pp. & 59pp booklets, libretto & notes. Very long out-of-print, Final Copy! - 9002723130843
“The ‘sacred legend’ LA VIRGE, the third of Massenet's four religious lyric works, consists of four tableaux from the life of the Virgin: the Annunciation, the wedding in Cana, Good Friday and the Assumption. The figure of Jesus does not appear at all, and the only substantial solo parts are those of the Virgin and the Archangel Gabriel. The work was first performed in Paris in 1880: of the scheduled three performances the first, according to the composer himself (who conducted), was coldly received except for the orchestral ‘Dernier sommeil de la Vierge’, which had to be played three times; at the second performance the hall was half empty; the third was cancelled. (The complete work was never given again in Paris.) I am bound to say that I cannot fault the Parisians' judgement. Dramatically the work is totally static, quite lacking in any forward impulse and with endless tedious repetitions of words; and musically this must be one of Massenet's least inspired scores. Apart from the sentimental ‘Dernier sommeil’ (a once popular piece for seaside orchestras) and the ‘Extase de la Vierge’ (before 1900 a favourite soprano warhorse), I find few points of interest: the rousing drinking scene of the wedding party, whose rhythmic vigour is in sharp contrast to the rest of the work; an exotic ‘Galileean dance’; the Virgin's first big monologue in which she fears that her son has forgotten her; and a brief unaccompanied quartet in scene 3.
Patrick Fournillier, the obviously enthusiastic Musical Director of the 1990 Massenet Festival from which this was a live recording, gets heartfelt support from his orchestra and chorus, even if too much seems to be taken at high pressure, and he is well served by the cast. Michèle Command as the Virgin has plenty of opportunity to display her lirico-dramatic voice (a bit gustily at first), Maryse Castets is bright and incisive as the Archangel, and their duet in scene 1 is fervently sung, though without much nuance: in a small part a young baritone new to me, Mario Hacquard, is worth keeping an eye on. The recording is extremely efficient, if a bit fierce at times….I can't help feeling that one would need to be a particularly ardent Francophile to regard this issue as other than a piece of misplaced nationalist piety.”
- Lionel Salter, GRAMOPHONE, May, 1992