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.