The history of La Fille
mal gardée is too complicated to be told in full here. Briefly,
a ballet on this theme, produced in Paris in 1789, came to be
known in a London revival as La Fille mal gardée. When
it was revived in Paris in 1828, the original music was deemed
too rustic by the higher standards then prevailing and Hérold
was invited to compose a new score, partly based on the older
music and partly newly composed, albeit that some of it was
‘borrowed’ from Rossini. Later revisions included ‘borrowings’
from Donizetti. A revival in Berlin in 1864 brought a new, much
heavier, revision by Peter Ludwig Hertel.
When Frederick Ashton decided
to revive the ballet in 1960, he turned to John Lanchbery who,
with Ivor Guest, returned to and rearranged the Hérold score,
specifically to cater for Ashton’s desire to include mime and
a pas de deux. The score performed here is, thus, something
of a confection in that only some of the music was written specifically
for the choreography, the rest being a pastiche of borrowed
items in the manner of Respighi’s La Boutique Fantasque.
Fuller details of its history may be found in the booklet notes,
written by one of its begetters, Ivor Guest. More still can
be found here.
Sadly, what you will not
find in the booklet is a plot summary of any but the most rudimentary
kind, let alone one keyed to the detailed track numbers. Grateful
as I am for the inclusion of notes in these Australian Eloquence
CDs, when their European-sourced equivalents contain none, I
find myself constantly regretting the spoiling of the ship for
the last ha’porth of tar. There is an online
summary but be warned: Wikipedia articles are permanently
subject to revision, not always for the better.
The Ashton/Lanchbery production
was such a success – the clog dance, no. 17a, brought the house
down and has since become well known in its own right – that
it was shown on television and Lanchbery conducted the Covent
Garden Orchestra in a 51-minute set of highlights, still available
and recommendable at mid-price on Decca Ovation 430 196-2. In
this form it competes with a Classics for Pleasure 2-CD set
on which Barry Wordsworth conducts a slightly different 58-minute
selection, coupled with ballet music by Messager (CFP 5 86178
2). Many will be content with one or other of these highlights
discs – may even feel that the complete score slightly outstays
its welcome. The CFP is particularly competitive, two CDs for
about the same price as the single-CD Ovation version: in its
original full-price incarnation it has been, till now, part
of my collection and it is with this that I shall compare the
present Eloquence set. Incidentally, the Wordsworth in its original
form contained a worthwhile plot summary; I am not sure whether
this has been preserved in the reissue.
As with the 2-CD Eloquence
reissue of Adam’s Giselle which I recently reviewed,
the first question is whether to go for a highlights set or
purchase the complete version. As the story-line for La Fille
is much thinner than that of Giselle, there is less to
be lost in highlights, especially when both highlights sets
offer around two-thirds of the whole ballet. Certainly the Liverpool
Phil play well for Wordsworth who, with his reputation for delivering
witty performances of light-classical music, does not disappoint.
If anything, his performance is a little livelier and more enthusiastic
than Lanchbery’s: whereas Lanchbery in performing the full ballet
no doubt had the p-lot in mind, Wordsworth, conducting an extended
suite, is less constrained by such considerations, though there
is little in it as far as timings are concerned. (The famous
clog dance, for example, takes 2:11 in the Lanchbery version,
2:12 from Wordsworth: both versions sound suitably quirky.)
The EMI recording, too, is a little fuller and slightly more
forward than the Eloquence. This should not, however, be taken
to mean that the Decca recording sounds at all scrawny: both
are digital recordings and there is little to complain of from
either. I understand that, as well as 24-bit re-mastering, all
Eloquence CDs are designed to give a degree of surround sound
on suitable equipment.
Since the CFP and this
Eloquence version will be selling at around the same price,
and since both performances and recordings are fully recommendable,
the coupling is likely to decide the issue. I have not heard
the Messager coupling but it has been well received elsewhere
and Les deux pigeons – another Lanchbery arrangement
– is certainly an attractive work. If, however, one chooses
the Eloquence version of La fille, there is another Eloquence/Bonynge
CD which offers Les deux pigeons (476 2448).
I do not believe that there
is any generally available rival recording of Mam’zelle Angot,
though there is a recording of the operetta La Fille de Madame
Angot, on which the ballet is largely based (Accord, 2-CDs,
465 883-2). This is another confection, put together by Gordon
Jacob for Massine in 1947 and set in fin de siècle Paris.
Though of no great substance – frothy and lively music in the
manner of the Offenbach/Rosenthal Gaïté Parisienne, but
less memorable, less substantial and less irresistible – it
is well worth hearing and the performance and recording here
are all that one could wish for. The rousing Allegro moderato
(no.13) and Finale (no.14), combined on track 24 of CD2 come
over particularly well: one can imagine such a performance being
enthusiastically encored in the opera house.
Again, one could wish for
a detailed plot summary linked to the track listings; the section
of the notes dealing with this work is very short. Perhaps Australian
Decca thought we should just sit back and enjoy some tuneful
music, without worrying about the plot. After all, the décor
and costumes are reputed to have been the main delights of the
original production – and they cannot be represented on CD.
(Perhaps someone will oblige with a DVD version).
Lovers of what might be
called serious light music will not be disappointed with this
set of what is essentially colourful musical wallpaper. (I don’t
mean to sound disparaging: it isn’t Swan Lake but there
are times when I find lighter ballet music ideal, just as there
are times when I want to listen to Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Wagner
or Renaissance Polyphony.) I end by sitting on the fence – a
very uncomfortable position – and say that the jury is still
out whether I keep the Wordsworth highlights from La Fille
or the Eloquence set. (As usual, I have to decide: I haven’t
got room for both.) Whatever my decision, I certainly look forward
to future Eloquence reissues.
Whilst we are waiting,
another attractive recent Eloquence reissue has just caught
my eye: the Offenbach/Rosenthal Gaïté Parisienne for
which I have just stated my preference over Mam’zelle Angot,
coupled with Gounod’s Faust ballet and Respighi’s Rossiniana.
Solti and Ansermet on 476 2724 – the Gounod and Rossini/Respighi
recently received a warm welcome on this site from Stephen Francis
Vasta and my own recollection of Solti’s Gaïté is more
positive than his review suggests.