Don Quixote, the great
novel by Miguel Cervantes, has inspired
a large artistic output through the
years, both musical and otherwise, the
most familiar to the English speaker
being (probably) The Man of La Mancha.
This two disc recording of the three
act ballet written by the Austrian/Russian
composer Léon Minkus and recorded
by the pre-eminent opera and theater
orchestra in Bulgaria, the Sofia National
Opera Orchestra, predates the American
musical by almost a century, and bears
only a passing resemblance even in terms
of the chronology of the storyline.
There are several scenes of which people
who know only the musical would have
no knowledge. However, the ballet is
a delightful work, if not a particularly
are fifty-nine pieces in the overall
work, divided into three acts, with
a diversity of intentions exhibited.
There are minuets, jigs, marches, and
waltzes galore. The pieces are largely
fun and light-hearted, as would be appropriate
to a comedy such as Don Quixote. The
performance is exquisite, and the recording
quality superb. Compositionally, this
is obviously intended for dance accompaniment
with percussion prevalent in so many
of the pieces. The work itself is very
much influenced by other Russian and
French composers of the era, with the
Spanish modalities essentially absent.
Considering the audience that Minkus
was writing for, this is to be expected.
His use of cellos as solo instruments
off and on throughout is notable, and
his melodies are fun and entertaining.
As a performance, it
would be hard to imagine a better one.
I listened to the recording repeatedly,
both to become better acquainted with
the work as a whole and for simple enjoyment,
and was taken with just how flawless
it seems to be. There are many opportunities
where a lesser orchestra would have
betrayed itself. One instance is the
Scene change in Act II (tr. 4 on CD2).
Here three or four instruments play
unison lines with no accompaniment and
Todorov changes tempos constantly. Such
highly exposed sections test the quality
of the musicians employed. These are
musicians of the highest caliber.
The engineering is
also very good. The recording quality
is clean and bright, well balanced,
and fairly indicative of what the listener
would encounter in live performance;
a far more difficult feat than it may
initially seem. It is as common to find
an orchestral work where the percussion
section has disappeared, or where the
basses are not anywhere to be found,
or where the sound has been made overly
dark through ill-judged microphone placement.
The sound engineers who worked on this
recording obviously know their business,
and the listener can tell the difference.
All told, this is an
exquisite work, and one that I would
likely have never been exposed to were
it not to have come across my desk for
review. If I may dream an impossible
dream, I would wish that I could expose
every lover of ballet, classical music,
and lover of the story of Don Quixote
to this recording. The Sofia National
Opera Orchestra, along with Nayden Todorov,
has produced a gem and should be proud.