Jacques OFFENBACH (1819 – 1880) Gaïté Parisienne arr. Manuel Rosenthal (1904-2003) (excerpts) (1938) [22.58]; Vert-Vert Overture [7.05]; Ouverture à Grand Orchestre [8.37]; Souvenir d’Aix-les-Bains [4.36]; La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein Overture [7.10]; American Eagle Waltz [6.11]; La Belle Hélène Overture [9.24]; Orphée aux Enfers Overture [10.02]
Cincinnati Pops Orchestra/Erich Kunzel
rec. Gaïté Parisienne, March 1980; other items 1978, 1980, 1983
ALTO ALC 1073 [76.08]

The ballet Gaïté Parisienne was commissioned in 1937 by the impresario Sol Hurok for a proposed reformation of the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, with choreography by Massine. Massine’s ballet to Johan Strauss, Le beau Danube, had been arranged by Roger Désormière, but he was unavailable so Rosenthal was approached. At the time Rosenthal was a conductor of the Orchestre National de France and would later become its musical director. The ballet uses characters from Offenbach’s operetta La vie Parisienne, in a new scenario by Count Etienne de Beaumont.

The ballet itself has dropped generally out of the repertoire but Rosenthal’s charming arrangement of Offenbach melodies, some well known others not so well known, has become popular. In fact the items were chosen by the choreographer Massine, rather than Rosenthal.

This disc, which re-issues Cincinnati Pops Orchestra recordings from the late 1970s and early 1980s offers a concert suite rather than the complete ballet (Telarc complete), though the CD booklet does not make that clear. The selection of Offenbach items is charming and effective, but not everyone will appreciate Rosenthal’s large-scale re-orchestration of Offenbach. If you can forget authenticity and simply sit back, then the suite is great fun.

If you want authenticity of a sort, then you need to look at the Naxos recording (8.554005) where the 92 year old Rosenthal made a recording of the complete ballet (lasting some 45 minutes) with the Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra. His third recording of the work, he was keen to make one which was uncut and used tempi that he was happy with.

On the Naxos disc, Rosenthal includes his other Offenbach work, Offenbachiana. Whereas Erich Kunzel and his Cincinnati Pops offer a selection of Offenbach overtures. These include the lesser-known Vert-Vert, which is entirely charming (the complete opera has just been recorded by Opera Rara), plus the overtures to La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein, La Belle Hélène and Orphée aux Enfers.

In addition we have the amazing American Eagle Waltz, which Offenbach wrote for a tour of the USA in 1876 as part of the country’s centenary celebrations. It includes a fine cornet solo from Philip Collins. The concert waltz, Souvenir d’Aix les Bains was written in 1873; Offenbach was a frequent attender at spas and had written much music for the resort of Bad Ems in the 1860s.

Much of this music has been recorded by more high profile bands and if you are interested in Gaïté Parisienne then I would recommend Rosenthal’s complete recording on Naxos. But Kunzel and his band give charming and sometimes captivating performances, though the waltzes seem to have rather too much of a Viennese lilt. For a bit of fun at budget price you can’t go wrong.

Robert Hugill

For a bit of fun at budget price you can’t go wrong.