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Danacord

August BOURNONVILLE (1805-1879)
Music to the Bournonville Ballets
Sylfiden / La Sylphide (1836) [69:10]
Romantic ballet in two acts by August Bournonville. Music composed by Herman Severin Løvenskiold (1815-1870) Solo violin: Lars Bjørnkjær Recorded: October 2002 and September/October 2004
Napoli eller Fiskeren og hans brud/ - Napoli, or the Fisherman and his Bride (1842) [101:41]
Romantic ballet in three acts. Music: H.S. Paulli (1810-1891) and Edvard Helsted (1816-1900) (Acts One and Three), Niels W. Gade (1817-1890) (Act Two) and H.C. LUMBYE (1810-1874) Finale: galop Solo violin: Signe Madsen Solo trumpet: Lars Ole Schmidt Recorded: May and June 2004
H.C. LumBYe (1810-1874) Polka Militaire (1842) [2:50] Recorded: October 2004
La Ventana (1842) [20:04] Ballet divertissement in two scenes. Music composed and arranged by H.C. Lumbye (1810-1874) and V. C. Holm (1820-1886) Recorded: August 2003
Conservatoriet eller Et Avisfrieri/ Le Conservatoire, or a Newspaper Courtship from 1808 (1849) [62:59]
Vaudeville ballet in two acts. Music arranged and composed by H.S. Paulli. (1810-1891)
Kermessen i Brügge eller De tre Gaver / The Kermesse in Bruges, or The Three Gifts. (1851) [75:04]
Romantic ballet in three acts. Music composed and arranged by H.S. Paulli (1810-1891) Solo violin: Christian Gottschalck Solo Cello: Søren Møhl Recorded: September 2000
Et Folkesagn / A Folk Tale (1854) [98:24] Ballet in three acts. Music composed by Niels W. Gade (1817-1890) and J.P.E. Hartmann (1805-1900) Solo violin: Lars Bjørnkjær Recorded: June and September 2004
Blomsterfesten i Genzano / The Flower Festival in Genzano (1858) [9:04]
Originally a ballet in one act. Music by Edvard Helsted (1816-1900) and H.S. Paulli (1810-1891)
Solo violin: Lars Bjørnkjær Recorded: October 2004
Fjernt fra Danmark eller Et Costumebal ombord / Far from Denmark, or a Costume Ball aboard Ship (1860) [66:53] Vaudeville ballet in two acts. Music partly by Joseph GLÆSER (1835-1891) with passages by A.F. Lincke (1819-1874) and H.C. Lumbye (1810-1874) Solo Piano: David Strong Recorded: June 2003
Livjægerne på Amager (Episode fra 1808) / The King’s Volunteers on Amager (Episode from 1808) (1871) [48:36] Vaudeville ballet in one act. Music arranged and composed by V.C. Holm (1820-1886) Recorded: June 2002
V.C. Holm (1820-1886) Jockey dansen fra: Fra Siberien til Moskau (1871) [2:47] Recorded: October 2004
Aalborg Symphony Orchestra/Peter Ernst Lassen
rec. Aalborg Denmark 2002-2004
DANACORD DACOCD 631-639 [9 CDs: 69:10 + 66:58 + 57:40 + 75:04 + 60:23 + 57:05 + 66:53 + 51:23] [total: 9:17:32]

 

This is an extremely hard CD to review objectively. It is not really possible to do justice to such a mammoth undertaking as Danacord have presented to the world in a relatively short time. In fact I am still picking my way through the vast array of ‘numbers’. But there are other reasons that make this objectivity difficult.

It is always a tricky task to pass comment on ballet music when one has not had the opportunity to see the performance on stage. It is so easy to state that music is good, bad or indifferent as music. However if it were heard in the context of the ballet it could be seen to be extremely effective. Although the booklet provided with the box gives a full synopsis of each of the ballets it is still difficult to imagine a performance. Like many ballets and operas, the plot outline is often rather thin and obviously depends on the scenery, the lighting and the personality of the dancers. Furthermore most of the famous ballets such as Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker are ‘dished up’ in suites – in other words all the best bits are lumped together. I imagine it will be very few listeners who will listen (not watch) to a complete recording of Swan Lake at one sitting.

Coupled to this is the inescapable fact that virtually none of this music is known away from the shores of Denmark. This means that none of the tunes or airs or purple passages has become a part of the general ‘music in the air’ that all of us are susceptible to. It is unlikely that much of this music will be played on Classic FM or even Radio Three. This is not because it is bad (it is invariably ‘good stuff’) but just because the programme makers will never get round to discovering it. So the reviewer and the listener are at a disadvantage. He or she has this vast amount of music which, although attractive, is difficult to set in the world view. However I should add that Chandos had a successful release of Severin Løvenskiold’s La Sylphide on ‘Chandos Collect 6546’. So there is perhaps a limited market for this music outside its home-base.

On this present recording we have nine complete ballets. At least one of them runs to close on two hours; and two hours of music that although not bad, is hardly in the ‘genius’ or even inspired class. A colleague of mine suggested that it would be like listening to all the Gilbert and Sullivan Overtures played together one after the other. And there is some truth in this.

My general view of the set is that there is much good music – but some of it seems to me better buried in the vaults or a least confined to live performances of these ballets.

Even the composers are probably little known to most people outside Scandinavia. OK I accept that a number of people will be familiar with a few pot-boilers by H.C Lumbye, namely his Champagne Galop. This appears on a number of samplers. And I am sure that lots of folk have heard of Niels W. Gade, even if they are not sure if they have heard his music. Do not get me wrong: I spend much of my time listening to, and arguing for little known composers or for those who do not have a reputation outside their homelands. But the bottom line is this. I cannot see how this CD will be popular anywhere expect Denmark. All of these composers are better known there and it will be a long slow job before they become household names in the UK and United States. Such is the sad state of music.

So what is the point of this present mammoth release? And how are we to approach it?

First of all a look at the background to the recording is in order. August Bournonville was born 200 hundred years in Copenhagen and came to dominate the ballet world in Denmark. It is largely due to Bournonville that Denmark came to have an indigenous ballet repertoire after many years of relying on largely Italian productions.

The Aalborg Symphonic Orchestra and their guest conductor Peter Ernst Lassen were fortunate to receive a large grant of some £68,000 from the Bikuben Foundation. This allowed the 200th anniversary of Bournonville’s birth to be celebrated with this massive recording project.

It was always going to be a long term job. The first notes were recorded in May 2002 and the last was ‘in the can’ by October 2004. An accompanying book was produced entitled ‘Dance is an Art.’ I have not seen a copy of this volume. But I understand that it is an in-depth study of the Bournonville Ballet, their interpretation and the possibilities for the future. It runs to some 380 pages and is written in Danish and in English. However there is an excellent booklet provided with the CDs. This contains a detailed plot analysis of each ballet or excerpt, along with historical notes on the composers and the choreography.

So, in summing up I would say two things. Firstly this is not a ‘popular’ disc. Few people will buy these nine CDs for their personal pleasure sat in front of the fire with a glass of Taylor’s Vintage Port (or equivalent), listening to the music. This is a disc for the specialist: both in the historical development of ballet in Denmark and the list of composers that serviced the need for an indigenous music.

Secondly, and vitally, this is a major archive project; an essential production that goes a long way to preserving part of Danish history and culture. There needs to be a formal record of this music produced in a professional and exceptionally musical manner. And this is what Danacord have done quite superbly.

To a certain extent I look with envy at this massive release. I cannot help feeling that so much music is hidden away in libraries of the world that deserves to have at least one recording made of it so that it is available to scholars and enthusiast for posterity.

I do not suppose many more recordings of these ballet scores will be forthcoming, but it is nice to know that we can listen to them as and when the mood takes us.
Well done Danacord and the Aalborg Symphonic Orchestra.

John France



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