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Jacques OFFENBACH (1819-1880)
Piano Works, Vol. 2

Abendblätter [7:07]
Schüler-Polka [2:35]
Les boules de neige [4:50]
Le Fleuve d’or [7:12]
Le Postillon [3:47]
Jacqueline [4:12]
Polka du mendiant [3:24]
Les Contes de la Reine de Navarre [8:17]
Souvenirs de Londres [2:37]
Herminien-Walzer [4:10]
Madeleine [3:47]
The Celebrated Pola Dance [1:58]
Les Belles Américaines [6:37]
Burlesque Polka [1:12]
Valse composée au château du Val le 9 août 1845 [3:36]
Galop infernal [2:39]
Marco Sollini (piano: Steinway & sons mod. D)
rec. 29-30 March, 2005, Teatro Sperimentale, Ancona, Italy. DDD
CPO 777 161-2 [68:50]


Marco Sollini has made something of a speciality of recording the piano compositions of operatic composers: his series of the piano works of Rossini is ongoing with Chandos; on Bongiovanni (GB 5118-2) he recorded one recital including works by Bellini, Verdi and Persiani and another (GB 5100-2) made up of compositions for piano by Puccini, Giordano and Mascagni. The present CD is the second that Sollini has devoted to Offenbach’s piano works.The first volume was reviewed earlier in these pages (review).

It will come as no surprise to hear that this is not a disc for those who insist that their music must have intellectual weight or emotional profundity. This is decidedly lightweight, largely superficial, emotionally uninvolved. But it is also witty, sparkling and imbued in every bar with the spirit of the dance. Here are engaging, if not especially distinctive, waltzes, polkas, mazurkas and galops.

The booklet notes tell us that as a young man Offenbach – always good at self-publicity – contrived to get himself mentioned in a Parisian magazine, Ménestrel, in the following terms:

This Offenbach regularly composes three waltzes, before breakfast, a mazurka after lunch, and four gallops between two meals. This young wonder asks us to communicate that he has just lost a white handkerchief on which he had scribbled the notes of a waltz composition. A high reward is promised to the person who finds the handkerchief".

The facility of composition claimed here, while obviously exaggerated, has some truth to it – as reflected in the sheer number of operas he wrote! The piano pieces were not, one suspects, the fruits of great struggles or deliberation. Though precise dates aren’t given it appears that most of the music heard on this CD comes from the period between about 1850 and 1875. These are salon pieces, many of them bearing titles grounded in the details of Offenbach’s personal life – the polka-mazurka ‘Madeleine’ was dedicated to the actress of the Théatre Français, Madeleine Brohan; the ‘Schüler-Pola’ bears the name of the singer Clara Schüler, with whom Offenbach was amorously involved; the suite of waltzes entitled ‘Jacqueline’ honours Offenbach’s daughter; the ‘Herminien-Walzer’ is dedicated to Herminie d’Alcain, the beautiful Spaniard he married in 1844. There is, indeed, a sensuous and amorous quality to much of this music, its exhilarations dedicated to at least two muses, Terpsichore and Erato.

Occasionally Marco Sollini’s ‘dancing’ at the keyboard seems just a little stiff-limbed, a little too straight-backed as it were; one can imagine more fluid, more insinuatingly amorous readings of some of these pieces. But for the most part these are lively, committed and obviously affectionate performances, and they make for an enjoyable, refreshing programme – even if Offenbach’s writing for the piano doesn’t stimulate the desire for champagne with quite the potency that his best writing for the stage does!

Glyn Pursglove


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