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Ferdinand Hérold (1791-1833) arr. John Lanchbery (1923-2003)
La Fille mal gardée (1828, arr. 1960) [94:44]
Charles LECOCQ (1852-1958) arr. Gordon JACOB (1995-1984)
Mam’zelle Angot (1872, arr.1947) [39:27]
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/John Lanchbery (Hérold)
National Philharmonic Orchestra/Richard Bonynge (Lecocq)
rec. Kingsway Hall, London, March 1983 (La Fille), December 1983 (Mam’zelle Angot). DDD
DECCA ELOQUENCE 442 9048 [58:40 + 75:47] 


 

 


The history of La Fille mal gardée is too complicated to be told in full here. Briefly, a ballet on this theme, produced in Paris in 1789, came to be known in a London revival as La Fille mal gardée. When it was revived in Paris in 1828, the original music was deemed too rustic by the higher standards then prevailing and Hérold was invited to compose a new score, partly based on the older music and partly newly composed, albeit that some of it was ‘borrowed’ from Rossini. Later revisions included ‘borrowings’ from Donizetti. A revival in Berlin in 1864 brought a new, much heavier, revision by Peter Ludwig Hertel. 

When Frederick Ashton decided to revive the ballet in 1960, he turned to John Lanchbery who, with Ivor Guest, returned to and rearranged the Hérold score, specifically to cater for Ashton’s desire to include mime and a pas de deux. The score performed here is, thus, something of a confection in that only some of the music was written specifically for the choreography, the rest being a pastiche of borrowed items in the manner of Respighi’s La Boutique Fantasque. Fuller details of its history may be found in the booklet notes, written by one of its begetters, Ivor Guest. More still can be found here. 

Sadly, what you will not find in the booklet is a plot summary of any but the most rudimentary kind, let alone one keyed to the detailed track numbers. Grateful as I am for the inclusion of notes in these Australian Eloquence CDs, when their European-sourced equivalents contain none, I find myself constantly regretting the spoiling of the ship for the last ha’porth of tar. There is an online summary but be warned: Wikipedia articles are permanently subject to revision, not always for the better.

The Ashton/Lanchbery production was such a success – the clog dance, no. 17a, brought the house down and has since become well known in its own right – that it was shown on television and Lanchbery conducted the Covent Garden Orchestra in a 51-minute set of highlights, still available and recommendable at mid-price on Decca Ovation 430 196-2. In this form it competes with a Classics for Pleasure 2-CD set on which Barry Wordsworth conducts a slightly different 58-minute selection, coupled with ballet music by Messager (CFP 5 86178 2). Many will be content with one or other of these highlights discs – may even feel that the complete score slightly outstays its welcome. The CFP is particularly competitive, two CDs for about the same price as the single-CD Ovation version: in its original full-price incarnation it has been, till now, part of my collection and it is with this that I shall compare the present Eloquence set. Incidentally, the Wordsworth in its original form contained a worthwhile plot summary; I am not sure whether this has been preserved in the reissue. 

As with the 2-CD Eloquence reissue of Adam’s Giselle which I recently reviewed, the first question is whether to go for a highlights set or purchase the complete version. As the story-line for La Fille is much thinner than that of Giselle, there is less to be lost in highlights, especially when both highlights sets offer around two-thirds of the whole ballet. Certainly the Liverpool Phil play well for Wordsworth who, with his reputation for delivering witty performances of light-classical music, does not disappoint. If anything, his performance is a little livelier and more enthusiastic than Lanchbery’s: whereas Lanchbery in performing the full ballet no doubt had the p-lot in mind, Wordsworth, conducting an extended suite, is less constrained by such considerations, though there is little in it as far as timings are concerned. (The famous clog dance, for example, takes 2:11 in the Lanchbery version, 2:12 from Wordsworth: both versions sound suitably quirky.) The EMI recording, too, is a little fuller and slightly more forward than the Eloquence. This should not, however, be taken to mean that the Decca recording sounds at all scrawny: both are digital recordings and there is little to complain of from either. I understand that, as well as 24-bit re-mastering, all Eloquence CDs are designed to give a degree of surround sound on suitable equipment.

Since the CFP and this Eloquence version will be selling at around the same price, and since both performances and recordings are fully recommendable, the coupling is likely to decide the issue. I have not heard the Messager coupling but it has been well received elsewhere and Les deux pigeons – another Lanchbery arrangement – is certainly an attractive work. If, however, one chooses the Eloquence version of La fille, there is another Eloquence/Bonynge CD which offers Les deux pigeons (476 2448). 

I do not believe that there is any generally available rival recording of Mam’zelle Angot, though there is a recording of the operetta La Fille de Madame Angot, on which the ballet is largely based (Accord, 2-CDs, 465 883-2). This is another confection, put together by Gordon Jacob for Massine in 1947 and set in fin de siècle Paris. Though of no great substance – frothy and lively music in the manner of the Offenbach/Rosenthal Gaïté Parisienne, but less memorable, less substantial and less irresistible – it is well worth hearing and the performance and recording here are all that one could wish for. The rousing Allegro moderato (no.13) and Finale (no.14), combined on track 24 of CD2 come over particularly well: one can imagine such a performance being enthusiastically encored in the opera house. 

Again, one could wish for a detailed plot summary linked to the track listings; the section of the notes dealing with this work is very short. Perhaps Australian Decca thought we should just sit back and enjoy some tuneful music, without worrying about the plot. After all, the décor and costumes are reputed to have been the main delights of the original production – and they cannot be represented on CD. (Perhaps someone will oblige with a DVD version). 

Lovers of what might be called serious light music will not be disappointed with this set of what is essentially colourful musical wallpaper. (I don’t mean to sound disparaging: it isn’t Swan Lake but there are times when I find lighter ballet music ideal, just as there are times when I want to listen to Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Wagner or Renaissance Polyphony.) I end by sitting on the fence – a very uncomfortable position – and say that the jury is still out whether I keep the Wordsworth highlights from La Fille or the Eloquence set. (As usual, I have to decide: I haven’t got room for both.) Whatever my decision, I certainly look forward to future Eloquence reissues. 

Whilst we are waiting, another attractive recent Eloquence reissue has just caught my eye: the Offenbach/Rosenthal Gaïté Parisienne for which I have just stated my preference over Mam’zelle Angot, coupled with Gounod’s Faust ballet and Respighi’s Rossiniana. Solti and Ansermet on 476 2724 – the Gounod and Rossini/Respighi recently received a warm welcome on this site from Stephen Francis Vasta and my own recollection of Solti’s Gaïté is more positive than his review suggests. 

Brian Wilson 

 

 

 

 


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