This delightful collection of Offenbach works is interesting because
it includes some lesser-known material by this composer. The alert
collector may have already come across the reconstructed Les
Fées du Rhin, heard for the first time at the 2002 Montpellier
Festival. It recording on Accord was given a full review on the
Musicweb-International site. The sprightly Concerto Militaire
is little known, if at all, and worthy of an appearance in the
concert hall while the Ballet of the Snowflakes, although
not known by name, will be somewhat familiar.
The opening overture, Orpheus in the
Underworld is a different and earlier arrangement from
the one regularly heard. It lacks the powerful opening and instead
starts with a strongly rhythmic haunting number 'I was a
King'. Here, the overture is played at a graceful pace though
some listeners may prefer the energy that a faster reading from
certain 'gusto' conductors ensures. For me, only the opening
could be brisker for the middle larghetto sections sound
The Concerto Militaire has
been shrouded in mystery. Only one complete performance was
known to have taken place - in Cologne, 1848 - although Offenbach
himself played its opening movement back in 1847 (Paris). Offenbach’s
grandson unearthed the first movement and a new edition had
been prepared by the cellist, Clement, using piano sketches
to re-orchestrate the missing second and third movements. Jean-Christophe
Keck’s CD notes tell us that his reconstruction was uneven and
incomplete. Since then, the manuscripts of the two missing movements
have recently been discovered in Cologne city’s archives and
in Washington’s Library of Congress, USA. They are used here
for the first time.
The concerto is a cheery piece with a display
of scintillating cello virtuosity that banishes a doleful lethargic
prominence that cellos often exhibit in their concertos. In
parts, I find this piece could be by Suppé (Poet and Peasant
perhaps) – its bouncy tempo is so bright. As a cello player
himself, Offenbach indulges in more than the usual virtuoso
element and as a result forfeits a strong thematic flow.
In this recording, the thirty-four year
old competition-winning cellist of the Paris Conservatoire,
Jérôme Pernoo, has much technical difficulty to contend with,
yet is perfectly wedded to Offenbach’s demands. His sensitive
reading throughout, for me, magnifies my interest in the piece.
The acoustic for the soloist is dry (close miking) and could
have benefited from the added bloom that deeper reverberation
might have given.
The Les Fées du Rhin overture
is essentially the complete barcarolle from Tales of Hoffmann.
This haunting tune was originally written as the Song of
the Elves for this operetta, written fifteen years earlier.
The work was forgotten until this barcarolle brought lasting
fame in Tales of Hoffmann. Compared against the one existing
full recording of Les Fées (Accord 472 920-2),
this reading chops 20 seconds from its 5:20 duration, thus benefiting
from a slightly faster pace. As a studio recording it is free
from the slight background disturbances noticed in the quieter
passages of the live Montpellier version, yet disappointingly
recesses some of the delicate atmospheric background effects
provided by the violins behind the main theme. In the Grand
Valse, an accentuated beat from the percussion is likely
to be more Minkowski’s interpretation than a double forte score
marking and makes the passage more Russian than French. Here
I can only visualize elephants trying to dance in a fairyland
Le Voyage dans la Lune is generally
unknown and so the appearance here of its Ballet des Flocons
de Neige is most welcome. The notes give little help
with background detail (as does Gammon’s biography apart from
indicating that the operetta played in London the same year
along with Sullivan’s The Zoo, 1873). For me, the music has
character and the Polka will be recognized as
a familiar theme, transferred to Offenbach’s ballet Gaîté
Parisienne (Rosenthal, 1904).
Modestly, Marc Minkowski
leaves all the biographical space in the booklet to Pernoo and
so I had to seek background information elsewhere. It seems that
this recording might be the first occasion Minkowski has met a
light-weight composer and I wonder if his approach might be too
heavy. Originally a bassoonist, he was awarded the Orphée d'Or
as "Best Young Conductor" in 1990 having won First Prize
at the first International Early Music Competition (Bruges 1984).
That same year he founded Les Musiciens du Louvre, a Paris-based
period-instrument ensemble, to perform Baroque and Classical repertoire.
I am not sure how these period instruments relate this disc, which
on the cover boasts ‘instruments originaux’. In the 1990s, he
revived Gluck, then Handel (Welsh National Opera, 1994) and later
involved himself in Mozart. With Les Musiciens du Louvre, Minkowski
signed an exclusive contract with Archiv Produktion in 1994, hence
In more than a couple of places, I notice
that the conductor’s breath intake is irritatingly audible but
generally the recording is good. The notes are provided in English,
French and German.