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Jacques OFFENBACH (1819-1880)
Gaîté Parisienne (arr. Manuel Rosenthal) [38.48]
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)

Faust: Ballet Music [15.52]
Royal Opera House Orchestra, Covent Garden/Sir Georg Solti
Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)

Rossiniana (arr. Ottorino Respighi) [25.52]*
L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Ernest Ansermet
rec. Kingsway Hall, London, May 1960; *Victoria Hall, Geneva, February 1967
DECCA ELOQUENCE 476 2724 [77.44]

I feared the worst from the from the pairing of this conductor with this repertoire. After all "gaiety" Parisian or otherwise, didn't seem to figure in the highly-strung Solti's interpretative makeup.

In fact, for better and for worse, this lively rendering of the Offenbach ballet is typical of the conductor in 1960. The opening flourishes presage a bracing, theatrical performance. The tuttis are crisp and brilliant with boldly drawn dramatic contrasts that occasionally verge on the portentous (e.g. tr. 13). The rhythms are generally buoyant and dancing; note the light-hearted, infectious zest of the off-beat accents in the Peruvian Dance. However when Solti unleashes the brass there is a certain heaviness for all the splendor of the resulting sonorities. The conductor picks up the pace within many of the individual numbers, sometimes an effective tactic - as with the airborne Viennese feel of the contrasting waltzes in track 14 - but it quickly wears out its welcome through overuse. As always with this conductor taut intensity is preferable to his attempts at forced "relaxation": the opening of the grand waltz (track 14) feels becalmed, the Barcarolle proper a bit sluggish. The warm, full-throated horns, dusky cellos, and, especially, delicate, insinuating woodwinds (particularly feline at the start of the Polka) of the Covent Garden orchestra afford much enjoyment. It's all recorded with impressive depth and impact.

The rest of the program scores unequivocally higher marks. In the Faust ballet music, the waltzes are nicely sinuous, while an infusion of brilliance elsewhere serves to refresh the score's fading charms. The playing, once again polished and responsive: the opening brass’s call to order is properly brazen, the massed strings voice their broad melodies resonantly, and the woodwinds' rhythmic address is remarkably acute. I still favor Rozhdestvensky's little-known, zippy account of this music - briefly available Stateside on a Westminster Gold LP - but Solti's is definitely one of the better high-profile accounts.

Rossiniana sounds like it could be a ballet in the manner of La boutique fantasque, also assembled from Rossini piano pieces by Ottorino Respighi, but it was written for the concert hall. It's the sort of appealing, colorful music in which Ansermet and his not-quite-top-of-the-line Suisse Romande Orchestra excelled. Their performance here is nuanced and vibrant. Sour wind tuning is a distraction at 2.21 of the Lamento, but the closing Tarantella has lots of bright energy. The sound here, of more recent vintage than in the Solti items, comes up vividly, though oddly it's drier and more restricted in range.

Each number in Gaîté Parisienne gets a separate track. On the other hand, the entire Faust sequence makes do with just one! Rossiniana, sensibly, gets one track per movement.

Stephen Francis Vasta

 



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