This series is poorly named on two counts. In my book, an eight-minute
overture like Bizet's Le Docteur Miracle isn't a "miniature";
neither are multi-movement suites like those of Saint-Saëns
or Delibes, even if the individual movements of the latter are
brief. In marketing terms, the title suggests a program comprising
some of the "bittier" pieces of, say, Debussy, Bizet,
and Ravel - a Pops-ish hodgepodge of the sort most collectors
won't want or need. In fact, the situation is quite the reverse.
Bizet's overture hasn't turned up before, as far as I know;
I believe the Saint-Saëns suite and the orchestrated Franck
set have, but they're not easy to find.
The music is good. The Bizet is, perhaps not surprisingly, a
lively, Offenbachish medley. The delightfully perky Aubade
movement from Lalo's Divertissement makes me curious
about the rest of the score. Chabrier's Habañera, with
liquid clarinets coloring the rhythmic accompaniment, is languid
rather than bouncy. Henri Büsser's orchestrations of Franck's
short pieces are pleasing, though only the haunting flute-dominated
textures after 1:26 in the fourth piece suggest the organ original.
Douglas Bostock redeems the unfortunate impression left by his
dreadful rendering of thirteen Dvorák Slavonic Dances
in Intercord's "Royal Philharmonic Collection"; also
As I remarked at the time, at first I was annoyed not to have
all the dances; afterwards, I was grateful for the three that
we were spared. Here, however, his flowing, lyrical conducting
is attentive to details of mood, capturing the rhythmic swing
at the start of the Bizet, the prayerful undertone to the Sarabande
in the Saint-Saëns and the tenderness of the Madrigal
in the Delibes suite. The "Chamber Philharmonic of Bohemia,"
whatever that might be, responds alertly, producing clear textures
and compact tuttis, with a tapered phrasing that is
Why a chamber orchestra? Granted, the ensemble isn't that much
smaller than the pit bands in some local European theatres,
so such performances don't overtly misrepresent the stage pieces.
The Lalo, which relies on woodwind color, sounds just fine.
In the Swan Lake-ish Romance of the Saint-Saëns,
the peaks blossom nicely. Elsewhere - the third theme of the
Bizet, for example - the clean, carefully blended strings can't
muster the required tonal body. The ethereal high violin note
at 3:05 of the Habañera could have been magical
with a few more players. In the Délibes suite, an affectionate
Baroque hommage, there aren't enough cellos to allow
the themes of the Madrigal and the shapely Scène
du bouquet properly to blossom. Bostock's characterful,
expressive account of this last must yield to the venerable
Beecham version (EMI
Classics 6318162), where the firmly weighted sound of the
full-sized Royal Philharmonic allows for a wider tonal and expressive
Still, the innovative program is a must-have for Compleat Compleatists.
The de luxe packaging is handsome, though I'd have
preferred not to have to cut open the slipcase to extricate
the jewel box; the notes on the program leaflet are minimal.
Now, can someone explain how a French program performed by Czech
players and an American conductor ends up on "Scandinavian
Stephen Francis Vasta
Stephen Francis Vasta is a New York-based conductor, coach,
see also review by Rob Barnett of original Classico release