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Alwyn, Grace Williams, Arnold, Wordsworth. Searle, Joubert


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Jacques OFFENBACH (1819-1880) Vive Offenbach – Famous Operetta Arias and Overtures
La Périchole – Overture [2:33]; “Ah! Quel diner” [2:18]; “O mon cher amant” [3:14]; “Ah! Que les hommes sont bêtes” [2:54]; “Tu n’est pas beau” [3:56]; Barbe-Bleue – Overture [5:23]; “Y’a des bergers” [2:28]; “Faut-il y aller” [4:11]; La Vie Parisienne – Overture [4:48]; “Vous souvient-il my Belle” [4:30]; “C’est ici l’endoit redouté” [4:06]; La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein – Overture [6:46]; “Il était de mes aïeux” [2:15]; “Ah! Que j’aime les militaires” [3:50]; “Voici le sabre de mon père” [3:12]; “Dites-lui qu’on l’a remarqué” [3:23]; La belle Hélène – Overture [8:54]; “C’est le devoir de jeunes filles” [5:11]; Invocation à Vénus [5:16];
Jane Rhodes (mezzo); Ensemble Vocal d’Aquitaine Eliane Lavail; Orchestre de Bordeaux Aquitaine/Roberto Benzi; City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Louis Frémaux; Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse/Michel Plasson
rec. Bordeaux, 1979; Corby, 1972
no text or translations included
EMI CLASSICS 7353042 [79:54]

Here is another example of an imaginative and useful recycling of material from the vast EMI archives. Two of the Overtures - La Périchole and La Vie Parisienne - come from complete recordings under Michel Plasson. The remainder is from a disc of French music conducted by Louis Frémaux recorded in the unlikely surroundings of the Festival Hall in Corby. All of these are worth hearing, especially the latter, but the bulk of the disc comes from a recital by Jane Rhodes. These are particularly splendid examples of the idiomatic performance of Offenbach. Each is sung very much in character, with the manner of performance directed by the context of the item and by the words. Jane Rhodes plays freely with the music, always respecting the underlying line and tempo but varying both to characterise it fully. It is arguable that her voice is too large for many of the pieces that she sings but she manages to avoid the kind of effect all too often resulting from a diva with a heavy voice attempting something needing a lighter and fresher approach.
 
Each of the chosen operettas is represented by its Overture followed by from two to four excerpts. The most enjoyable are probably those from La Périchole and La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein, although not everyone will appreciate the occasionally broad characterisation in the former. The various orchestras play stylishly but the choir sing no more than dutifully. Fortunately their contribution is a small part of the whole.
 
I am not clear to whom EMI expect this disc to appeal. It would be an excellent introduction to the composer’s music but much more so if adequate notes – or indeed notes of any kind – were provided to explain the context of each item. The innocent ear will probably appreciate that the singer sounds intoxicated in “Ah! Quel diner” and that the Grande-Duchesse thoroughly relishes the opportunity to inspect her soldiers, but it would be good to explain more than that, ideally with the text and translation. The disc should however appeal also to those who know all the excerpts well. For both groups it offers a good representation of Jane Rhodes’ artistry in this music and also of Offenbach’s genius in his operettas.
 
John Sheppard