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Jacques OFFENBACH (1819-1880)
Overture: Orphée aux enfers (Orpheus in the Underworld) (1858) [10:24]
Overture: La Belle Hélène (The Beautiful Helen) (1864) [8:35]
Overture and ballet: Le Voyage dans la lune (Journey to the Moon) (1875) [17:25]
Overture: La Fille du tambour-major (The Drum-Major's Daughter) (1879) [5:54]
Intermezzo and Barcarolle: Les Contes d'Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffmann) (1881) [5:12]
Overture: Barbe-bleue (Bluebeard) (1866) [3:08]
Overture: Le Mariage aux lanternes (Marriage by Lantern-Light) (1857) [5:25]
Overture: La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein (The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein) (1867) [6:04]
Overture: Vert-Vert (1869) [8:59]
Overture: La Vie parisienne (Parisian Life) (1866) [5:33]
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Neeme Järvi
rec. 23-24 June 2015, Victoria Hall, Geneva, Switzerland
Reviewed as a 24/96 Studio Master download from The Classical Shop
Pdf booklet included

Neeme Järvi, whose Chandos recordings with the (Royal) Scottish National Orchestra in the 1980s were universally acclaimed, has turned his attention to lighter music these days. I’ve reviewed his Chabrier, Saint-Saëns and Suppé, shared between the RSNO and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande; Järvi was appointed artistic and music director of the latter in 2012. These recent albums seem rather variable, primarily because I find Järvi a tad brusque at times. Indeed, I’ve even gone so far as to suggest he’s not the powerhouse he once was; perhaps this Offenbach collection will change that perception.

We kick off with an invigorating account of the overture to the celebrated Orpheus in the Underworld, which ends with a high-kicking rendition of the famous Can-Can. The OSR are wonderfully alert and the recording has plenty of space and sparkle. Bass is quite taut and the percussion is nicely rendered. I cut my teeth on Karajan’s early digital recording of these perennially popular pieces, but it sounds rather fierce and regimented now. That said, they’re still exciting performances.

Järvi’s account of the overture to The Beautiful Helen is well blended and it’s surprisingly supple – for him. The stereo spread is very convincing and there’s a lovely bloom to the sound that I haven’t heard from Chandos in a while. Also, those rousing brass passages are bracing but not too bright, while the quieter ones are nicely detailed. One of Offenbach’s less familiar works, the so-called ‘fairy opera‘ Voyage to the Moon, is represented here by the overture and ballet music. What glorious fanfares in the overture, and how ear-pricking the timp rolls that follow. As for the ballet music it’s artfully sprung and attractively pointed.

Any caveats thus far? Apart from the fact that not all these arrangements – mostly by unknown hands – are of equal quality and interest Järvi’s Offenbach isn't always as genial as I’d like. Never mind, he more than makes up for that with performances of impeccable style and shape. The overture to The Drum-Major's Daughter mixes martial rhythms with moments of real tenderness. It’s all capped by the kind of chatterbox-chastening finale that had me laughing out loud. Järvi scales and paces this one to perfection, inviting a round of applause even before the curtain rises. These well-drilled players seem to be enjoying themselves as well.

Offenbach’s masterly opéra fantastique, The Tales of Hofmann, premiered in Paris in February 1881, is represented by the intermède (intermezzo) and Barcarolle; both get a decent if somewhat low-key outing here. As for Karajan’s Bluebeard it’s one of the more memorable tracks in his collection. By contrast Järvi’s account has a softer centre, and he’s firm rather than obsessive in matters of rhythm. The short overture to Marriage by Lantern-Light – a revised version of the earlier Mathurin’s Treasure – is one of the more obscure and less ‘showy’ pieces here; it has a certain charm nonetheless.

While Järvi’s performance of the overture to La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein seems a tad reticent after Karajan’s more brilliant one it’s no less compelling for that. What the OSR lack in sheer élan – the Berlin brass in particular are hard to beat – they make up for in lovely detail and rhythmic flair. Ditto in the effervescent overture to Vert-Vert, which climaxes in a runaway finale that had me reaching for the Repeat button. The last bon-bon in this well-filled box, Antal Doráti’s arrangement of the overture to La Vie parisienne, is certainly one of the tastiest.

A melt-in-the-mouth confection, attractively played and presented; Järvi père is back on form at last.

Dan Morgan



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