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Festive Overtures and Preludes
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826) Jubel-Overture (1818) [8:13]; Richard WAGNER (1813-1883) “Die Feen” Overture (1834) [12:02]; Jules MASSENET (1842-1912) “Werther” Prelude (1892) [5:12]; Giacomo MEYERBEER (1791-1864) Fest-Overture (1862) [15:01]; Georges BIZET (1838-1875) “Les Pêcheurs des Perles” Prelude (1863) [2:50]; Franz von SUPPÉ (1819-1895) “Fatinitza” Overture (1876) [7:13]; Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) “Fierrabras” Overture (1823) [8:53]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Walter Proost
rec. 19-20 December 1999, The Colossum, Watford. SACD
TALENT DOM 2929 101 [59:40]

Experience Classicsonline


I would love to be able to ask the person responsible for this disc why these particular works were chosen and why it has been given the title “Festive Overtures and Preludes”. Two of them were indeed written for particular festive occasions, although as there are no notes whatsoever on the music you are left wondering what was being celebrated. In fact the Weber, which quotes from what we know as “God save the Queen”, was written for the 50th Jubilee of the King of Saxony, and the Meyerbeer, which quotes “Rule Britannia”, for the 1862 London World Exhibition. Both are entertaining to hear, although perhaps best not too often. All of the other pieces are overtures or preludes to operas. The two French preludes effectively set the mood for the opera that follows, but neither makes much impression on its own. The remaining three overtures however are much more worth hearing, especially the Schubert, a work surprisingly rarely played in the concert hall. The early Wagner is strongly indebted to Weber and arguably too long for its material, but nonetheless enjoyable. The Suppé is a splendid collection of tunes from an excellent but too little known operetta, and even more obviously enjoyable.

But why bring them together? This is a clear victim of a format with up to 80 minutes to fill - although in fact there are less than 60 minutes of music here - and no obvious way of picking a series of short pieces. The result here is emphatically not a disc to play straight through, and without any obvious reason to the order in which they are placed, which is as above. As an alternative, the title could have been taken more literally. There are many concert overtures with the words “festive” or “festival” in the title – Shostakovich, Richard Rodney Bennett and Lortzing spring immediately to mind. I have no doubt that, with a little research, there would be scope for several collections of that sort. Alternatively a disc of rare operatic overtures, if scarcely a new idea, would always be welcome. Again many possibilities suggest themselves – what about Flotow’s “Alessandro Stradella”, Mancinelli’s “Cleopatra”, Adam’s “Le Brasseur de Preston” or Erkel’s “Hunyadi Laszlo”, to name only overtures I have been wanting to hear for many years. There are many hundreds more and the music is easily available in libraries for anyone willing to try them. However when a disc of this type is put together, it is essential that the listener should be told something about the works on it and why they have been brought together. The presentation here, with notes only about the conductor and orchestra, is singularly unhelpful in this regard and shows a lack of respect for both the listener and the music.

I have written so far only about the music. The performances are fresh and enjoyable but there is little that is outstanding about them. Similar comments could be made about the recording, which also gives The Colosseum - the former Watford Town Hall - an unexpected amount of reverberation at times. It is hard to see this disc as an essential addition to any collection although I am glad to have had the chance to hear it. Given the obvious trouble and expense involved in its production I can only see this as an opportunity for an interesting and attractive disc wasted, along with the efforts of the performers involved.

John Sheppard


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