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Compilation: DEGAS Music of his Time - includes music by:
Adolphe ADAM (1803-1856)

Giselle: Allegro un peu louré and Galop general
Slovak Radio Orchestra/Andrew Mogrélia
Charles-Valentin ALKAN (1813-1888)

Prelude Op. 31, No. 13 ‘J’étais endormie, mais mon coeur veillait’
Prelude, Op. 31, No. 17 ‘Rêve d’amour’
Esquisse, Op. 63 No. 5 ‘Les Initiés’
Esquisse, Op. 63 No. 16 ‘Fantaisie’
Laurent Martin (piano)
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)

Faust Ballet Music
CSR Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava)/Ondrej Lenard
Léo DELIBES (1836-1891)

Coppélia – Ballet Music from Act I
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Mogrélia
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)

Carmen Suite No. 1
Gabriel FAURÉ (1838-1875)
Dolly Suite

Pierre-Alain Volondat/Patrick De Hooge (piano)
Emmanuel CHABRIER (1841-1894)
Joyeuse Marche

Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo/Hervé Niquet
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)

Arabesque No. 2

Pour le piano Toccata
Françoise-Joël Thiollier (piano)
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)

Firebird Suite (1919) Berceuse and Finale
NAXOS Art and Music 8.558144 [76:19]


Another interesting concept from Naxos making excellent use of material taken from their ever-growing catalogue. The visual arts and music have always proceeded side-by-side, one borrowing from or being inspired by the other. This new compilation is of music that was by composers contemporaneous with the French Impressionist painter and sculptor, Edgar Degas (1834-1917). Most of the above standard repertory works will be familiar and needs no comment other than that they are all creditably performed – the Debussy piano solos by Thiollier being especially lucid and expressive. Perhaps the least known music will be the piano pieces by Alkan. Pianists normally associate particularly dense, difficult material with Alkan but the little pieces in this compilation are, for the most part, comparatively simple and dreamily romantic, except the quicksilver Esquisse ‘Fantaisie’. They are played with elegance and refinement by Martin.

Just as important as the music on this album are the brilliant, erudite notes by Hugh Griffiths. These are spread over all but six pages of its lavish well-illustrated 24-page booklet. By nature, Degas appears to have been a brilliant conversationalist and something of a wit but friends were often wary of his sharp tongue. He was something of an intellectual and a critic, his background privileged for his father ran the Paris branch of a Naples bank and his mother had interests in a New Orleans cotton business. There was no parental opposition to Degas’s artistic aspirations which were profitable: his dance pictures found a ready market. Thanks to highly placed contacts Degas was able to move freely behind the scenes at the Opéra and he had many friends amongst the orchestra. Clearly he had a fondness for the ballet and opera. The ballet dancer who danced Giselle in the first production of the ballet was the lover of the choreographer Jules Perrot who, later, as an old man, would be the dancing master in Degas’s most famous scenes of the ballet class.

Degas’s tastes were fairly conservative. He liked Weber, Verdi, and Gounod. Faust was his favourite opera and Delibes’ Coppélia never lost its appeal for him. Bizet had been friendly with him when they were both resident at the Villa Medici in Rome. And when he was almost blind, Degas attended the first season of the Ballets Russes in 1909.

The booklet also contains a short essay on Degas’s sculptures concentrating, of course, on his exquisite Little Fourteen-year-old Dancer. There is also a four-page life-line that not only covers the major events in Degas’s life but also the events that shaped the period and some details of the lives of his contemporary artists and musicians.

Excellent informative notes on Degas and music plus ballet and theatre pictures and sculptures. Quality musical excerpts from works by French contemporary composers make this an alluring compilation.

Ian Lace

Bill Kenny has also listened to this disc

The brochure by Hugh Griffith included with this disc, describes the Parisian society of Degas’s adult lifetime (from the 1850s onward) extremely vividly. By 1867, the year of the Universal Exhibition, we learn that Paris had been largely rebuilt to provide ‘wide boulevards, and spacious, unobstructed views, giving free play to light and air.’ We learn too that Edgar Degas became a typical flâneur, an ‘idle and well-dressed stroller, who cast his sharp eye everywhere around him like a detective, piecing together the visible clues of other people’s lives.’ As a privileged and well-to-do young man Degas could take full advantage of the flourishing life of public entertainment to be found in the city, including the theatres, cafés-concerts, vaudevilles and music halls which might attract as many as 54,000 people on a ‘good night.’

Like Griffith’s excellent brochure included with the Raphael CD in Naxos’ Art and Music series (reviewed elsewhere) this one provides a clear and informative pen-picture of the artist’s environment and a biography that explains the content of his major works to a significant degree. Importantly too, Griffith relates Degas’s life very carefully to the musical life of 19th century Paris including his personal relationships with many of the important musicians of his time. It is all very well done and includes both a chronology of the musical events coinciding with the completion of some of the artist’s work and six illustrative full-colour photographs.

The music on this disc has been chosen essentially because it is either typical of works that Degas would have enjoyed or because he had some kind of personal relationship with the composers. Naturally enough, given the content of the best known of the artist’s paintings and sculptures a good deal of it is well known ballet music (Adam, Gounod, Delibes, Stravinsky) but there is also other orchestral music (Bizet, Chabrier) and piano music by Alkan, Fauré and Debussy.) The performances are always competent with orchestras and performers from the typical Naxos stable, and the recording quality is fine.

As I thought about the market for this particular disc however, and compared it with the Raphael disc in the same series, it occurred to me that there is a distinct difference between them. Almost all the music on this disc is decidedly ‘popular’ whereas the ‘Raphael’ music is more specialized and could be unfamiliar even to some established music lovers. I found the Degas brochure fascinating but I’m not sure I’d listen to the music much. I could buy it for ‘arty’ friends, of course.

Bill Kenny

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