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DEGAS – Music of His Time
Author: Hugh Griffith
Slovak Radio Symphony/Andrew Mogrelia; Laurent Martin, Pierre-Alain Volondat, Patrick De Hooge, François-Joël Thiollier – Piano; CSR Symphony (Bratislava)/Ondrej Lenard; Slovak Philharmonic/Anthony Bramall; BRT Philharmonic (Brussels)/Alexander Rahbari
Rec. various - unspecified
NAXOS ART AND MUSIC 8.558144 [76.19]

Adolphe ADAM (1803-1856)
Giselle, Act 1

Allegro un peu Louré [2.34]
Galop general [3.12]
Charle-Valentin ALKAN (1813-1888)

Prelude, Op 31 No 13 ‘J’étais endormie, mais mon cœur veillait’ [4.23]
Prelude Op 31 No 17 ‘Rêve d’amour’ [2.43]
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)

Ballet music: Allegretto [2.24]
Ballet music: Adagio [3.48]
Ballet music: Allegretto [1.29]
Charle-Valentin ALKAN (1813-1888)

Esquisse Op 63 No 5 ‘Les Initiés’ [2.28]
Esquisse Op 63 No 16 ‘Fantasie’ [1.20]
Léo DELIBES (1836-1891)
Coppélia, Act 1

Valse [2.23]
Mazurka [4.12]
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
Carmen, Suite No 1

Prelude [1.27]
Aragonaise [2.20]
Intermezzo [2.47]
Seguidilla [1.55]
Les Dragons d’Alcala [1.44]
Marche du toreador [2.19]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Dolly Suite

Berceuse [2.20]
Mi-a-ou [1.46]
Kitty Valse [2.15]
Le Pas espagnol [2.09]
Emmanuel CHABRIER (1841-1894)

Joyeuse Marche [3.47]
Shepherd of Israel (1952) [15.46]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)

Arabeque No 2 [3.31]
Rêverie [4.19]
Pour le piano – Toccata [3.58]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Firebird Suite (1919)

Berceuse [4.17]
Finale [3.34]



This reviewer has never liked compilation discs, seeing them as a cheap way for record companies to exploit their back catalogues by flogging off just the bits that sell. It can also be a way for people who like to claim musical knowledge to gain a smattering without having to do any serious listening or having to put up with any of the bits between the ‘big tunes’. Naxos’s Art And Music series seems, on the other hand, to be a genuine attempt without pandering to make the compilation format into a useful educational tool. Given the wide range of the Naxos catalogue the compilers had plenty of repertoire from which to choose, and have done so wisely in the case of this Degas-based disc. Paris in Degas’s time was alive with music and although the obvious bits of Carmen do feature there are also more obscure, but nonetheless interesting, examples of piano music by Alkan and the smaller-scale repertoire in a charming performance of Fauré’s elegant Dolly Suite. (Unfortunately the excellent booklet, of which more later, fails to mention the interesting manner in which Alkan died – a particularly pious Jew who lived a hermetic lifestyle, he was reaching for a pious tome when his bookcase fell on top of him and he suffered the fatal consequences.) It is interesting from an assemblage of this kind to see just what changes did occur during a single lifetime – Degas (1834-1917) was born into the opening tracks of Adam’s almost classical score of Giselle and died only two years before Stravinsky assembled the final track, his 1919 suite from The Firebird. In between, Gounod, Bizet and Fauré had done their thing and Debussy was to die only the year after Degas. The presentation of the tracks in roughly chronological order serves here to underline the linear development of French music in this fascinating period.

The second gripe one always makes about compilation discs is the ridiculous lack of accompanying information that tends to be their norm. Naxos have taken the opposite approach in this disc and included a lengthy and serious essay ranging over the various art forms in which Degas and his contemporaries worked. This 13-page essay, by Hugh Griffith does discuss the music featured, but only insomuch as it touches upon the general artistic trends of 19th century Paris. The disc is about the music of Degas’s time and thus most of the booklet is about Degas. This combination of artistic references gives a much broader context for the music and makes the collection more of a unity than would at first be apparent from a glance at the track listing. This approach is to be heartily commended. The booklet is illustrated with half a dozen full colour reproductions of works by Degas, in small format of course, but high quality print. There is also a useful chronology juxtaposing the activities of Degas (for some reason mis-attributed as Raphael – a less likely pairing than Raphael’s Madonnas and Degas’s Dancers would be hard to imagine) and his contemporaries.

It may have taken years, but Naxos seems to have found a formula here, which is a useful informative source, and a chance to present a fiori musicali selection of works justifiably. The performances are first rate throughout and the presentation is excellent. Given Naxos’ budget pricing this disc becomes a more admirable concept again. First-rate stuff with maximum marks for taking the compilation format onto a serious level.

Peter Wells

See also review by Ian Lace and Bill Kenny

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