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Jacques OFFENBACH (1825-1892)
Ballade symphonique
La Vie Parisienne (1866) (Preludes to Acts I, 2, 3, 4, 5; Melodrama of the Entrance of the Masks; Melodrama of the glove and bootmakers)
Les Bergers, Prelude to Act 1 (1865)
La Périchole (1868-74) (Preludes to Acts 1, 2, and scenes 3, 4; Indian March; Melodrama of the acrobats; Melodrama of the letter; Melodrama of the King’s place setting; Melodrama of Piquillo’s goal; Melodrama of the old prisoner; Melodrama of the escape)
Sur un volcan, overture (1855)
Orphée aux Enfers (1858) (Preludes to Scenes 1, 3, 4; Melodrama of Eurydice’s death; Melodrama of the depart of the Underworld; Melodrama for the anger of public opinion; Melodrama of Orpheus in the Underworld
Ba-ta-Clan (1855) (Overture and Chinese March; Exit; Melodrama of Florette’s round)
Barbe-Bleue (1866) (Prelude to Acts 1, 3 (Storm), 4; Melodrama of the reception; Melodrama of the dénouement)
Les Souvenirs d’Aix-les-Baines, waltz suite (1873)     
Orchestre National de Montpellier/Jean-Christophe Keck
rec. Montpellier, France, 2005. DDD
ACCORD 476  8999 [77:14]

Lovers of Offenbach may well scan the contents of this disc and think there is little new since most of the works listed are regularly staged and already enjoy a substantial discography. But look again, for what we have here is a fresh collection of Preludes and Melodramas, many of which are unknown, having been discarded as stage productions went through tiers of adaptation during their runs, some before their vocal scores were even published. For example, Le Vie Parisienne Act V prelude had to be reconstructed from its piano score because the full score has been inaccessible. Consequently, these arrangements will be far from familiar for they revert to the foundation material. This is a delight to those of us who yearn for more music from this composer’s pen. Some of the tracks are world première recordings. I understand that the team responsible for putting together this material are intending to make more of the unjustly neglected musical treasures of Offenbach accessible to today’s public: let us hope that they get the support they need. We remember the recent reconstruction of Offenbach’s early opera Die Rheinnixen three years ago (see review) when I found its music superior to La Belle Hélène and, in my personal humble opinion, Tales of Hoffmann.
I have found this recording quite fascinating. At a superficial level the music is delightful. At a deeper level one can study the way the composer moulds his material through revision. In Le Vie Parisienne the Act I prelude also went through a number of changes; this happens to be the first recording in its original form. In Barbe-Bleue, the original prelude to Act III contained a Rossinian storm that was cut to trim the running length of the piece. The Act I overture/prelude to Les Bergers (The Shepherds) is a five minute delight in ‘opéra-seria’ style, with shepherd’s pipe melody taken by the flute, of course.
Les Souvenirs d’Aix-les-Baines needs some explanation: in the 1870s Offenbach began to suffer from acute rheumatism and regularly frequented the Aix-les-Baines spa for rest and treatment. Further relief would be found in the casino next door. During his suffering he was able to compose the brightest and most charming of melodies, as has been the case with other composers. It was for the casino orchestra that he composed this waltz suite as a memory of his stay.
This CD shows the wide variety of style that can be discovered in Offenbach’s compositions. The material is superbly played by the large and competent forces of the Montpellier National Orchestra. With expert handling by Jean-Christophe Keck every nuance of the score is nicely teased out. With enthusiastic support I hope that more material will find its way to disc.
Detailed notes giving good background information are written in French, English and German.
Raymond Walker





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