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French Music for the Stage
Estonian National Symphony Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
rec. 2018/19, Estonia Concert Hall, Tallinn, Estonia
CHANDOS CHAN20151 [78:40]

A rousing performance of Ambroise Thomas’s Overture to Raymond begins this disc of French theatre music, varied and entertaining. A simple country lad, Raymond, turns out to be Louis XIV’s brother, and becomes the Man in the Iron Mask. Things eventually get better for Raymond; released from prison, he can marry his betrothed. The overture’s three main sections introduce the opera. After the fast opening comes a bucolic section with nice interplay between the orchestra and the flute, and finally a galloping theme with the feel of William Tell, briefly interrupted by a little tenderness.

Fra Diavolo was the nickname of the Italian guerrilla leader Michele Pezza. Daniel-François-Esprit Auber’s 1830 opera presents Pezza’s exploits twenty-four years after his death. The music begins with a roll on the snare drum, which Nigel Simeone’s notes describe as call to arms. The intensity builds up, first in the strings and then in other orchestra sections. Plenty of martial music swirls around, always interesting as Auber rings in more changes and more striking orchestral colour.

François-Adrien Boieldieu’s two pieces here are no more than a pleasant diversion. The Overture to Le Calife de Bagdad would not be out of place in Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail, maybe with a little more pseudo-Arabian flavour. Twenty-five years later, Boieldieu composed La dame blanche based on texts by Water Scott (I know a recording on Accord 220862). The maturity adds originality. There are nice effects, especially in the woodwinds, but little to point to the Scottish origins.

Next comes Leo Delibes’s incidental music from Le Roi s'amuse. This varied, colourful suite of dances, a very welcome courtly affair, harks back to the earlier times. (The Pavane in this suite may be known from Warlock’s Capriol Suite; both composers use the same source.) Thomas Beecham’s 1958 recording of Delibes’s piece, which I know, often sounds staid. Järvi has the knack of making the dances sound spritely, and we get the bonus of the Vielle Chanson before the last dance.

The largest work here is Massenet’s last ballet, the one-act Espada, based on a scenario by René Maugars (the pseudonym of Baron Henri de Rothschild). It was completed in the summer of 1907 and premiered at the Monte-Carlo Opera on the 15th February 1908. The action takes place in a posada or inn. Anitra entertains customers with a series of Spanish dances. Only the toreador Alvéar is not moved by her spirited dancing. Anitra challenges him to dance with her. She reads the cards and foresees a tragedy if he does not fall in love with her. Alvéar ignores her suspicion and leaves the posada, saying he will meet her that evening after the bullfight. When Anitra hears the toreros return, she guesses from their sad demeanour that something is wrong. Indeed, her fearful premonition has come true: Alvéar is dead. Not given a chance to grieve, Anitra is forced by the owner of the posada to dance for his customers. The music and dances become more frenzied until the end of the ballet.

Järvi and the Estonians make up for their lack of Spanishness with an enthralling and engaging performance. They bring out the best in the music, and deliver it with panache: the energetic Marche de Toréadors, and the Spanish dances, including the Danse de la Mercédès, Bolero and Fandango.

This super disc gives much enjoyment, and exudes orchestral colour. The artists give its due even to the weaker work, and the sound is to Chandos’s usual high standard. Nigel Simeone’s essay, concise and informative, adds to the listening pleasure. All in all, this is a most rewarding and highly recommendable disc.

Stuart Sillitoe

Ambroise THOMAS (1811–1896)
Overture to 'Raymond, ou Le Secret de la reine' (1851) [8:03]
Daniel-François-Esprit AUBER (1782–1871)
Overture to 'Fra Diavolo, ou L'Hôtellerie de Terracine', S18 (1830) [8:28]
François-Adrien BOIELDIEU (1775–1834)
Overture to 'Le Calife de Bagdad' (1800) [7:13]
Overture to 'La Dame blanche' (1825) [8:17]
Léo DELIBES (1836–1891)
Scène du bal and Vieille Chanson from 'Le Roi s'amuse' (1882) [17:06]
1 Gaillarde. Moderato ben marcato [2:57]
2 Pavane 'Belle qui tiens ma vie'. Allegretto [2:32]
3 Scène du bouquet. Andante (sans lenteur) [2:10]
4 Lesquercarde. Allegro [1:32]
5 Madrigal. Andantino [2:11]
6 Passepied. Allegro [1:46]
Vielle Chanson (avec mandoline). Moderato [2:49] Theodor Sink (cello) Ants Ónnis (mandolin)
7 Final (Reprise de la Gaillarde). Moderato [1:03]
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
Espada (1908) Ballet in One Act [29:09]
Allegro - 0:38
Madrilena - Più mosso – [2:16]
Marche des Toréadors. Allegro brillante – [1:58]
Panderos. Allegretto con moto - Più mosso - Allegro - 3:05
Scène de l'Espada. Allegro - Allegro pappassionato - Allegro - Più mosso - Allegro moderato - Allegro vivo - [4:18]
Scène des Cartes. Allegro - Allegro stesso Tempo - Più lento – [2:02]
Boléro. Allegro moderato - Più caloroso - Molto più mosso – [1:54]
Toréador et Andalouse. Allegro moderato - Animando - Andante - Allegro - Animando -
Più mosso – [3:30]
La Danse de la Mercédès. Allegro con moto - Più mosso - Più mosso ancora - Allegro – [4:24]
Fandango. Allegro vivo - Allegro con moto – [2:30]
La Danse de la Mercédès [Allegro con moto] - Più mosso - Più mosso ancora - Largo [2:29]

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