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French Ballet Music
Léo DELIBES (1836-1891)

'Le Roi s'amuse' - Incidental music (Recorded Salle Wagram, Paris; 1958)
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)

‘Prélude à l'Après-midi d'un faune' (Recorded Abbey Road, London; 1957)
'L'Enfant prodigue' - Scène lyrique - Cortège et air de danse (Abbey Road; 1959)
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)

'Samson et Dalila' - Opéra en trois actes:-
Danse des prêtresses de Dagon (Acte I) (Recorded Abbey Road; 1958-9)
Bacchanale (Acte III) (Recorded Kingsway Hall, London; 1958)
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)

'La Damnation de Faust' - Légende dramatique:-
Danse des sylphes (Partie II) ( Recorded Abbey Road; 1957)
Menuet des follets (Partie III) ( Recorded Abbey Road; 1957)
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)

'Cendrillon' - Opéra en quatre actes: Valse (Acte I) (Recorded Salle Wagram, Paris; 1957)
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)

'Faust' - Opéra en cinq actes: Musique de ballet (Acte V) (Recorded Salle Wagram, Paris; 1957)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham
Digital re-mastered 2002.
EMI GREAT RECORDINGS OF THE CENTURY 5 67899 2 [70.25] Midprice

This is the repertoire for which Sir Thomas Beecham was especially famous. These extracts are rated as favourites by most of this conductor’s many admirers. With the benefit of a new digital re-mastering, these recordings have come up as bright as a new button. It is hard to believe that all were made more than forty years ago.

The dances from Le Roi s’amuse, a play by Victor Hugo are seldom played. They are written in a slightly neo-classical style and like most of Delibes’ music are tuneful and well crafted. The highlight of this collection is the famous faun so sensuously depicted by Debussy. Here the superb woodwind adds subtle warmth and evoke a hot French summer afternoon to great effect.

The little interlude from Debussy’s Prodigal Son is a real rarity and like the two extracts from The Damnation of Faust by Berlioz are, strictly speaking, not ballet. All three are played with characteristic élan and all were featured in the Beecham ‘Lollipops’ CD (CDM 7 63412 2). That disc also contained the two famous dances from Samson and Dalila by Saint-Saëns. They are played here with verve and excitement.

Another rarity is the waltz from Cinderella by Massenet, a work of quirky charm delightfully presented on this disc. All the recordings are stereo with the exception of the Cinderella waltz and the Ballet Music from Gounod’s Faust. The Faust re-mastering is a specially noticeable improvement over the sound of the original LP. Although this performance of the Faust ballet music has been much praised and is well executed, many of the tempi are unusually slow and the emphasis on charm is to the detriment of the action depicted in this scene of the opera.

The big disappointment is that Beecham’s famous recording of music from Grétry’s ‘Zémire et Azor’ was not included. This has been unavailable for a long time and a modern re-mastering is greatly missed.

Throughout the disc, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra plays as if inspired - as they undoubtedly were by this great English conductor. This represents a shining example of the lighter side of Beecham: strongly recommended.

Arthur Baker

Great Recordings of the Century

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