Alexandre Denéréaz: At Tutankhamen's Tomb

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Apparently the opening salvo in a series devoted to forgotten Swiss symphonists, this disc offers sounds from a landlocked country that for the most part experienced the avant-garde and exotic developments of the early twentieth century only secondhand. The beautiful packaging of this disc by Lausanne-based composer Alexandre Denéréaz leads the buyer to expect music that's more exotic than it actually is. The opening Au tombeau de Tut-Ankh-Amon (At Tutankhamen's Tomb), composed in 1925 followed soon after the discovery of that famed reliquary, is only intermittently identifiable as related to Egypt or antiquity; it and Le rêve (1908) are conventional, late-Romantic scores in a Germanic-Austrian vein despite the composer's origins in French Switzerland. The most entertaining of the three works may be the set of nine Scènes de la vie de cirque, composed in 1911. Though devoid of the nihilist strain you might expect in circus music of that time, the music embodies exactly what's promised in the booklet: a representation of an event that gave the Swiss one of their few opportunities to experience the wonders of the wide world. Denéréaz evokes a snake charmer, African dancers, clowns, jugglers, horsewomen, and so on with an innocent festivity and a compact punch that make the work into an entertaining counterpart to the likes of Saint-Saëns' Carnival of the Animals. The music is beautifully recorded, but the Volgograd Symphony Orchestra under Emmanuel Siffert can't quite fill the sonic spaces available; the brass section on this occasion lacked the crispness and the intonational precision necessary for repertory of this kind.

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