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Darius MILHAUD (1892-1974)
La création du monde - ballet, Op. 81 (1923) [16:47]
Saudades do Brasil, Op. 67: no 7, Corcovado; no 9, Sumaré; no 8, Tijuca; no 11, Larenjeiras (1920-1921) [7:25]
Le boeuf sur le toit - ballet, Op. 58 (1919) [19:35]
Saudades do Brasil, Op. 67 (1920-1921) [19:35] (complete: Overture; no. 1,– Sorocabo; ; no. 2, Botafogo; no. 3, Leme; no. 4, Copacabana; no. 5, Ipanema; no. 6, Gavea; no. 7, Corcovado; no. 8, Tijuca; no. 9, Sumaré; no. 10, Paineras; no. 11, Larenjeiras; no. 12 Paysandu)
ORTF National Orchestra/Leonard Bernstein
Concert Arts Orchestra/composer (Saudades complete)
rec. 12-13 November 1976, Salle Wagram, Paris (Bernstein); 10-12 Sept 1956, Studio A, Capitol Tower, Hollywood. ADD

Milhaud’s Saudades do Brasil is presented here in two forms. Four of the Saudades are performed by Bernstein and the complete suite is presented in an earlier performance conducted by the composer.
Born in Aix-en-Provence, in France, Milhaud’s bright, warm, Mediterranean and ‘Latin’ spirit so clearly permeates these attractive orchestral works. EMI’s choice of Leonard Bernstein as the main conductor was clearly an excellent one. At times one can almost imagine ‘Lenny’ conducting these Latin-infused scores assisted only by his dancing shoulders.
La Création du monde (The creation of the world) premiered by the Ballets Suédois in 1923 is often considered to be his masterwork. It has been said to be the first major score to use authentic jazz rhythms. Milhaud was captivated by hearing jazz played by Billy Arnold's American Novelty Jazz Band in London in 1920 and also during his American tour in 1922 when he heard authentic New Orleans jazz played in the Harlem district of New York. Although we are not told it seems likely that that this score is the orchestral suite taken from the complete ballet. In Bernstein’s hands this sounds like a jazz-steeped Bacchanalia, with an extended episode of relative calm, as if the uproarious activities have left the revellers exhausted. In the saxophone dominated ‘Dance of Desire and Fugue’ at 13:45 (track 1) Bernstein and his French players provide a ferocious dance of unashamed passion.

Originally a suite of dance movements for solo piano the Saudades do Brasil were composed around 1920 and orchestrated shortly after. Milhaud was greatly inspired by South American folk music and the dance scenes represent his reminiscences of Brazil, and Rio de Janeiro in particular. It seems that the title of each Saudades is derived from the names of districts in Rio de Janeiro. On this recording we hear Bernstein in action conducting only four of Milhaud’s Saudades. In the Coplandesque Corcovado I especially enjoyed Bernstein’s pensive-sounding brass and wind, so evocative of open spaces, and also the smoothly rocking and excitable high strings in Sumare. With Tijuca Bernstein gives the heavily-laden brass a character of anger and irritability and provides Larenjeiras with an air of a gentle village folk dance.

The pantomime or ballet Le boeuf sur le toit (The Nothing-Happens Bar as used on the posters for the 1920 premiere or the Nothing Doing Bar) was composed in 1919. What was once regarded as an entertaining trifle is now probably Milhaud’s most popular score along with La Création du monde. Strongly influenced by his memories of a trip to Brazil, Milhaud initially conceived the music as a “rhapsody based on airs” suitable as a possible accompaniment to a Charlie Chaplin film. For a time Milhaud gave the score the subtitle ‘Fantaisie for the movies’. In 1920 Jean Cocteau staged the score as a pantomime to a scenario of an American Speakeasy during Prohibition, using acrobats, clowns and dwarves. Later the celebrated clown family the Fratellini brothers had considerable success with their fantasy-world interpretation of this exuberant score.
With this music Milhaud courted controversy by using dissonance saturated with Latin-American, mainly Brazilian dance music. With Bernstein’s imaginative direction Le boeuf sur le toit is a rapidly-changing hotchpotch that is highly lyrical, inventive with a good-humoured personality, often frenzied, frequently excitable and never restful. Bernstein seems to transform Cocteau’s setting of an American Speakeasy into a seedy and pulsating Rio de Janeiro or Buenos Aires bar.
Milhaud conducting the Concert Arts Orchestra in the complete score of his Saudades do Brasil provides a strong sense of expressive freedom, although I favour Bernstein’s innate ability to obtain additional rhythm and increased orchestral colouring. In the very short Overture I enjoyed Milhaud’s mood evocative of a Mexican carnival. The excitable and stylish Leme has an air of mystery with a sultry conclusion. Under Milhaud Copacabana is gently rolling, gradually gaining in violence and intensity and in Corcovado one could easily imagine Gauchos riding their horses over the Pampas. In Tijuca I was struck by how Milhaud successfully contrasts anger and agitation with calm and tranquillity. His jaunty carnival-like reading of Larenjeiras has a couple of episodes of hysterics and in Paysandu I was impressed by the composer’s concise evocation of a salacious and stifling evening, in say, Rio de Janeiro or Buenos Aires.
Simply superb recordings of Milhaud dance scores conducted by the composer and by Bernstein. I certainly will not be rushing out to find alternative accounts of the scores.
Acclaimed by several Milhaud aficionados and maybe worth investigating are the recordings of La Création du monde and Le boeuf sur le toit from Kent Nagano and the Orchestre de L'Opéra de Lyon on Erato 2292 458202.
The EMI sound quality is excellent and the booklet notes from Roger Nichols are exemplary. This release is sheer delight from start to finish and I cannot help thinking that it would make the perfect introduction to Milhaud’s music.
Michael Cookson

see also review by Rob Barnett



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