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Cat. No. CHAN 3033(2) Price: £18 No. of discs: 2
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CHAN 3033 - Massenet: Werther
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Massenet is still frowned upon by ‘superior’ musicians, a consequence – at least in part – of writing memorable tunes. He is certainly not revered to the same degree as his near-contemporary and compatriot Berlioz. But Massenet was not only a theatre person, he also knew about the human heart and understood as well as any opera composer the psyche of women. Throughout his long career writing for the theatre , and nowhere more so than with Charlotte in Werther, he created heroines with whom his audiences empathise.

Where his music is concerned, the works he composed for the Opéra-Comique evince a scrupulously conversational style so that, in spite of their inspired musical content, they can be considered as plays set to music. The text is derived from Goethe’s autobiographical novel Die Leiden des jungen Werther (The sorrows of Young Werther) written in the form of letters. By the time of its composition in 1886-7 Massenet was reaching the height of his powers. From the opening bars alone we know that the hero’s obsessive infatuation with Charolotte will come to an unhappy end.

Massenet provides an arresting contrast between the apparent contentment of bourgeois life at the Magistrate’s house, its domestic surroundings and moral uncertainties expressed basically in diatonic and jaunty terms, and the ecstasy and agony of Werther’s love and Charlotte’s emotional turmoil, harmonically more complex. All Werther’s music is couched of his poetic sensibility and the wild emotions tormenting him within.

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