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Jacques OFFENBACH (1819-1880)
Piano Works Vol. 1: Decameron dramatique - Album du Theatre Francais; Les Roses du Bengale - Six valses sentimentales; Dernier Souvenir, Valse de Zimmer; Bella Notte, Barcarola
Marco Sollini (piano)
rec. 2-3 August 2003, Teatro Sperimentale of Ancona DDD
CPO 777 079-2 [70:03]

Offenbach is so well known as an opera composer - some 90 operas in 25 years! - that we tend to overlook his many other works which include a cello concerto, ballet and numerous orchestral, songs and instrumental works. We also forget that by many he was seen as a waltz king in opposition to Johann Strauss. This disc contains a selection of his dance music written for piano.

Decameron dramatique is a collection of considerable originality; the pieces were written during 1850-55 when he was the musical director of the Comédie Française theatre. Offenbach dedicated each piece to a woman, specifically to the ten ‘stars’, the main singers in his theatre. Every number had an introduction and a coda which draws the themes together to form an exciting finale. The longest pieces are two ‘Grande Valses’, the others are shorter and include two ‘Schottisches’ and various other dances including polkas.

Les Roses du Bengale comprises six short rather enigmatic waltzes. They are simply structured, elegiac and rather reserved. Surprisingly perhaps many are in a minor key. They were each dedicated to a lady with a noble title, one of whom, Herminie d’Alcon, he later married.

The Dernier Souvenir, Valse de Zimmer is based upon a tune which Offenbach’s mother and sisters hummed him to sleep at night. There is a fascinating and touching story of how the composer tried to trace the composer of the tune and eventually found him starving and on the point of death in Vienna. This composer was called Zimmer and his life had been ruined when his fiancée had died suddenly.

The last work on this disc, Bella Notte, Barcarola, is a piano arrangement of the famous barcarole that Offenbach used with such effect in his Les Contes d’Hoffman.

All the music on this disc is tuneful and effectively presented by the composer and is very enjoyable. However it would be unfair to suggest that any has that ‘wow’ effect that characterises Offenbach at his brilliant best - Barcarole excepted.

Marco Sollini plays well but I cannot help thinking that a little more flexibility in phrasing would mitigate the strict tempo-for-dancing feeling. The recording is good and the presentation and notes also are fine; although the notes are too obviously a translation from German. Despite these minor cavils this is an enjoyable CD.

Arthur Baker


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