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Small welds his Renoir's Feast (29'36") into a coherent whole with a limpid river theme, evoking the unceasing, dreamily reflective Seine [listen -- track 1, 1:22-2:05]. His 23 piece work starts and ends with this motif, used seven times in all. Thirteen segments are intended to characterise the subjects included in Renoir's original. The final three items are devoted to (i) The party itself, (ii) Aline Charigot's dog, and (iii), Renoir, the only subject not on canvas.

Each person in the Renoir painting is a known character and, at a first glance it seems they all possess their own, distinct, individualism. However, the score has too many oft-repeated musical imprints to differentiate all thirteen of Renoir's personnel. In segment two, Alphonsine Fournaise, daughter of the Maison proprietor, comes across as rather querelous; but in the painting she's self-contained and merely listening.

Editor, historian and art collector Charles Ephrussi (4) is conveyed as stolid though not without a twinkle in his eye.

The music reveals much of the atmosphere with its scraps of conversation, whispers, laughter, flirting, confidences, gossip, wit and wisdom, and exchanges apropos of nothing much at all. But the characters are less than convincing.

Renoir [listen -- track 10, 0:00-1:15] stands apart -- a portrait of calm and concentration; imbued with eddies of the timeless Seine. Aline Charigot (20) and dog (21) proved similarly interesting for after a few preparatory 'woofs' the dog mirrored more than a little of his mistress's demeanour. On the other hand Italian journalist Maggioli (16) is dismissed in five seconds and actress Angèle (17) in 23 seconds.

In a parting gesture The Party [listen -- track 22, 0:00-0:49] is shown to unfold at a furious pace; an impression belied by Renoir's 51 x 68 inch original. The occasional uncertainty of gait and repeated skittering of translucent notes became a little bothersome -- maybe Renoir's friends had a commonality such as Small has captured. My doubts on this score are not allayed.

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Copyright © 13 August 2006 Howard Smith, Masterton, New Zealand


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