Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Complete ballet music from the operas: Otello [5:37]; Macbeth [10:16]; Jťrusalem [21:36]; Don Carlos [16:41]; Aida [8:52]; Il Trovatore [22:52]; Les VÍpres Siciliennes [29:30]
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Josť Serebrier
rec. The Lighthouse, Poole, Dorset, 15-17 May 2011
NAXOS 8.572818-19 [54:09 + 61:13]
Verdi was a master of music-drama who planned his operas with enormous care over characterisation and the dramatic situations depicted. It is then surprising that he should have accepted the demands of the Paris Opťra that a ballet be included in all operas performed there.
In the extensive and interesting notes with this set the conductor, Josť Serebrier, mentions that he insists on playing the ballets when conducting those Verdi operas which include them. After listening to this set I can quite understand his fondness for the music, but rather less why he should accept the break in dramatic continuity that all apart from Aida represent.
The most surprising is that there should be a ballet written for Act III of Otello. It is comparatively brief and was accompanied by a detailed synopsis by the composer of what the dances are meant to represent. Nonetheless he asked that it should not be included in the printed score as it would break the continuity of the action. Presumably he only accepted its inclusion under duress. I have never seen it included in a stage production. It may simply be due to my unfamiliarity with the dramatic impact of hearing it in place that I would expect it to be extremely harmful to this most single-minded of operas. At the same time I will admit readily that simply as music it is very attractive and well worth hearing.
Similar comments can be made about most of the works here. They are by turn fascinating, tuneful and atmospheric but almost all are dramatically irrelevant. The one exception is Aida in which the dances form an integral part of the drama. The longest sequence is that from Les VÍpres Siciliennes depicting the Four Seasons. It has achieved occasional performance as a concert work. It is full of very attractive music, not least a long clarinet solo. Its overall shape appears to be dictated more by the demands of dance than musical structure.
Although much is made in the publicity for these discs that this is the first time that all the ballet music from Verdiís operas has been gathered together in a single recording that may be potentially misleading to the purchaser. There is a splendid set of four discs from Chandos on which the late Sir Edward Downes conducts the BBC Philharmonic in not just all the music on the present set but also the composerís entire operatic Preludes and Overtures. That set remains well worth having, but so too is the Naxos set which presents only the ballet music. The performances and recording are affectionate and lively, possibly at times too much so for actual dance use. This is a useful alternative to the Chandos set, and any Verdi enthusiast would be do well to have one or both in their collection.

John Sheppard
The performances and recording are affectionate and lively.