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Jacques OFFENBACH (1819-1880)
Orphée aux enfers [10:24]
La Belle Hélène [8:35]
Le Voyage dans la lune (overture and ballet) [17:25]
La Fille du tambour-major [5:54]
Les Contes d'Hoffmann (Intermezzo and Barcarolle) [5:12]
Barbe-bleue [3:08]; Overture: Le Mariage aux lanternes [5:25]
La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein [6:04]
Vert-Vert [8:59]
La Vie Parisienne [5:33]
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Neeme Järvi
rec. 23-24 June 2015, Victoria Hall, Geneva, Switzerland

When choosing Offenbach’s overture CDs to listen to I tend to go for the Karajan collection (DG) with its superlative playing but garish, glassy sound or the nicely recorded Scherchen (Westminster, now available from Klassic Haus) with its sense of fun albeit let down by some erratic, scrappy orchestral playing. This new collection from Chandos now supersedes both of those long-standing favourites.

The Orchestre de la Suisse Romande is in very good form throughout with playing that is in a different league to that demonstrated in their 1960s Decca/Ansermet era. Their sound has a beautiful warm glow with some especially sumptuous string playing. Neeme Järvi leads them through a 75 minute romp of high-spirited music-making that is full of flair. The orchestra sounds as if it loves every minute of this recording session. Ultimately, there isn’t the same precision and vivacity one hears from Karajan’s Berlin Philharmonic but the Chandos sound is a more enjoyable experience.

The opening of Orpheus in the Underworld sounds rather tentative and slightly laboured but things soon settle down, culminating in a furious, breathless Can-can. La Belle Hélène is tastefully done with the beautiful waltz melody played in a fairly relaxed way but lacking what one could call a Viennese lilt. The closing pages are clearly articulated and as full of brio as one could reasonably expect. The Overture and Ballet from The Journey to the Moon features a lovely horn melody which was later used in “Scintille Diamant” from The Tales of Hoffmann, and the ballet music includes a wind machine - very subtly used, I might add. The overture to The Drum-Major's Daughter is a little gem with its delicate, gentle central melody and a frothy finale that blows you away. This is fabulous music aided and abetted by magnificent playing.
Barbe-bleue is presented in a low key fashion compared to Karajan’s hothouse version but the sheer enjoyment in the playing is obvious here. Järvi leaves the best till last with a thrilling, fizzing Vert-Vert full of delicate little touches and a stupendous conclusion with all guns blazing. The disc concludes with Antal Dorati’s arrangement of La Vie Parisienne with yet more élan, flair and commitment on show from Järvi and his orchestra.

The Chandos sound is immaculate, warm, detailed and easy on the ear. This is a real cracker of a disc. It’s also great value.

John Whitmore

Previous review: Dan Morgan



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