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French Music for Ballet
Henri SAUGUET (1901-1989)
Les Forains [25:15]
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
Ballet Suite from Herodiade [9:34]
Jacques IBERT (1890-1962)
Les Amours de Jupiter [33:10]
Estonian National Symphony Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
rec. 2018, Estonian Concert Hall, Talinn
CHANDOS CHAN20132 [68:19]

Henri Sauguet’s ballet Les Forains (The Fairground People) dates from 1945, and was first performed at the Ballets des Champs-Élysées. The piece opens with a prologue, in which the strong principal tune, played by the trumpet, immediately captures the listener’s attention. It is followed by a truly memorable valse lente, which Sauguet later arranged as a song for Edith Piaf. The whole work combines nostalgia with vivacity and considerable melodic invention. There is a charming polka, a rather snakily twisting Barcarolle for a pair of Siamese Twins and a dashing piece for the conjuror. The opening music returns at the close, making a very effective conclusion to most attractive, colourful music.

Music from Massenet’s early opera Herodiade, comes next. It was composed in 1881-84, immediately preceding the record-breaking Manon. It tells a story based on the historical characters King Herod, Herodiade (his wife), Salome, her daughter and John the Baptist. As was de rigeur in those days, an opera had to have a ballet component, and Massenet obliged with colourful dances for Les Égyptiennes, Les Babyloniennes, Les Gauloises and Les Phéniciennes. Whilst I don’t think that these have the degree of memorability that Massenet managed to provide with his orchestral music in Thais and Le Cid, they are exotically scored, with dances that are alternately exciting and languorous. The music is clearly of an earlier generation than that of Sauguet and Ibert, but is no less enjoyable for that.

Finally, I have much enjoyed Ibert’s Les Amours de Jupiter, in which Ibert displays a rather greater subtlety of orchestration than Sauguet and uses it together with his very French musical elegance and ingenuity to compose this imaginative ballet. Like the Sauguet, it was created in 1945 for Petit’s Ballets des Champs-Élysées and is based on a section of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. It begins with a rather grand overture leading to Enlèvement d’Europe opening with a frothy ensemble for girls followed by Europa’s rather sad-sounding solo, followed again by the frothy music, which the amorous Jupiter dramatically interrupts, disguised as a bull and portrayed by the brass. When he gets around to Leda, he disguises himself as a swan, and is portrayed by rather agitated variations that contrast well with the simplicity and slightly bittersweet music provided for Leda’s solo. Both of them come together in an animated pas de deux. The dance of Danaë and her two gaolers shows Ibert at his most energetic, whilst her solo music has a nice clarinet solo amidst their gentle variations. Jupiter then appears as an eagle and transports the young shepherd Ganymede to Mount Olympus. Ibert gives us the most dissonant music in the ballet for Jupiter the eagle, and it develops with a distinctly Spanish sounding momentum, and when he and Ganymede dance the music becomes brassily jazzy. The final apotheosis shows the initial music reprised as Jupiter reconciles with his wife Juno. The ballet medium allows Ibert to demonstrate his melodic invention in a spicy language that is modern without straying into atonality, and I found it to be most agreeably performed here.

As one expects from Chandos, this CD is presented in excellent performances and sound quality, with a booklet in English, German and French that contains detailed descriptions of the music and biographical information.

Jim Westhead
Previous review: Nick Barnard

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