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Léo DELIBES (1836-1891)
Sylvia - Ballet in three Acts (1876) [87:32]
Coppélia - Ballet in three Acts (1870) [85:07]
London Symphony Orchestra/Anatole Fistoulari (Sylvia); Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra/Antal Dorati (Coppélia)
rec. Watford Town Hall, 28-29 June 1958 (Sylvia); Northrop Auditorium, Minneapolis, 21-22 December 1957 (Coppélia)
NEWTON CLASSICS 8802080 [3 CDs: 61:39 + 58:13 + 52:54]

Experience Classicsonline

Here are two of the best French nineteenth century ballet scores played in exemplary style and vividly recorded. If this music has any appeal to you I would simply suggest that you stop reading and buy this set straightaway.

For those less certain let me elaborate a little. Delibes’ two best known ballets have scores that are no mere ancillary addition to the dancing. They are varied, imaginative and memorable, scored with immense flair, but at the same time entirely suited to their purpose in the theatre. I regard them as fully the equal of Tchaikovsky’s ballets. Admittedly the extracts included in the usual suites or selections from the present works do comprise their better parts, but there is plenty left that is well worth hearing, at least occasionally.

It is important when performing them not to forget their initial theatrical purpose, or to be tempted to linger affectionately at times when dancers would be unable to linger. Fortunately the two conductors here – Anatole Fistoulari and Anatol Dorati – both had long experience of working with dancers and this shows repeatedly in their lightness of touch, well sprung rhythms and well chosen tempi. You may feel at times, especially in Coppélia, that the music is being unnecessarily pushed onwards at times, but I soon found myself preferring this more thrusting approach which never lets the music become too static. Fistoulari in Sylvia is less prone to this while still maintaining the essential onward momentum. Both conductors have the advantage of very good playing and a recording which is astonishingly full and clear for its date.

The booklet with the set has good synopses of both ballets together with some interesting background material about the composer. Curiously for what is clearly an historical issue there is nothing about either of the conductors. This is regrettable as these were important and much admired recordings both technically and interpretatively when they were first issued, and their quality continues to impress today. Obviously at a time when DVDs of both ballets are easily obtainable you may prefer to own recordings that present the whole visual and aural package intended by the composer and choreographer. There is nonetheless much to be said for simply being able to concentrate on the two delightful scores without the “distraction” of the dancers, and I cannot imagine being able to do that better than by listening to these discs.

John Sheppard