For all his expertise in Baroque and Classical music, Sir Neville Marriner's
forays into later repertoire have frequently come off as less
auspicious than ambitious; nor would the Romantic ballet have
seemed a fruitful area of exploration for him. That said, the
first twenty minutes or so of these Giselle extracts
- sensitively shaped, richly coloured, and rhythmically pointed
- may well represent one of the high points of Sir Neville's
Once past the vigorous opening tutti, the lyrical Introduction
is airy and expansive. The woodwinds play the pastoral Les
vendageurs with delicacy and point. The string phrases launching
the Prince's entrance go with thrust, and the string chord at
0:15 brings a striking change of color and mood. The waltz that
follows shortly thereafter is delivered with both grace and
weight, and, while the conductor can't do much for the square
Scène d'amour, he holds its perfumed sentiment
within reasonable bounds.
After the strong, forthright tutti reprise of the Retour
des vendrageurs,. the Valse is basically perky and
buoyant, though the hesitant ritard at 1:42, setting up the
theme's return, hesitates the wrong way. The tutti recap
is a bit slapdash, less neat than the earlier statements. The
pulsing string notes under the oboe in the Pas de deux
also could use more point, but the brass fanfares of La Chasse
The first-act Final doesn't maintain this high level.
When the love music returns, Marriner burdens the theme with
heavy tenutos, rendering it not only sentimental but puling.
The climactic pages are too "vertical" in conception - oddly
so from a former violinist - and the effect manages somehow
to be stodgy and inflated at once.
For most of the second-act excerpts, unfortunately, Marriner
reverts to his music-by-the-numbers mode. The tempi are under-animated,
the rhythms square, and the conductor's perceived interest minimal.
There are characterful patches here and there: the Apparition
et scène de Myrthe takes on profile and point with
the arrival of the waltz at 7:51 - Sir Neville certainly seems
to enjoy the waltzes - and interest also revives at the middle
section of the Entrée du Loys. Later in that same
movement, recurring tenutos on top of a plodding tempo keep
grinding the music to a halt. The textures of the Variation
di Giselle are thick and oozing - they should have been
much better organized.
The sound quality is pleasantly warm, though the ambience makes
some of the tutti punctuations - in the Marche des
vignerons, among other places - a bit overbearing.
While Giselle lacks the melodic appeal and historical
importance of, say, Coppélia, it can be pleasant
listening. "Complete" sets are few and far between: Zhuraitis's
colourful Melodiya version is, in fact, slightly truncated,
reflecting the Bolshoi Ballet's performing edition. It's certainly
preferable to Karajan's much-touted Decca issue, the grey, homogenized
sonorities of which are a letdown. If you want a sampling of
the best bits, Ormandy (Sony Essential Classics) offers an opulent
reading of about fifteen minutes' worth of Act I.
Stephen Francis Vasta
Stephen Francis Vasta is a New York-based conductor, coach,