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ADAM: Giselle – Ballet Suite, ed. BUESSER; TCHAIKOVSKY: Nutcracker ballet Suite – Orch. du Theatre National De L’Opera Paris/ Richard Blareau/ Royal Philharmonic Orch./ George Weldon – Guild

ADAM: Giselle – Ballet Suite, ed. BUESSER; TCHAIKOVSKY: Nutcracker ballet Suite, Op. 71a – Orchestre du Theatre National De L’Opera Paris/ Richard Blareau/ Royal Philharmonic Orch./ George Weldon – Guild GHCD 2413, 70:24 [Distr. by Albany] ***: 

Until 1924, no real orchestral score of the 1841 Giselle Ballet of Adolphe Adam (1803-1856) existed, the parts lay incomplete or randomly orchestrated, the Paris Opera’s relying on piano reductions and scattered instrumental excerpts since 1868. Various “impurities” had long crept into the established productions in France and in Russia, including additions by Minkus for selected dancers. Even the premiere in 1841 suffered extraneous music by Friedrich Burgmueller for the so-called peasant pas de deux.  Composer and conductor Henri Buesser (1872-1973), conductor of the Paris Opera since 1905, decided to remedy the situation with a compiled edition which held some sway until c. 1960, when musicians like Richard Bonynge felt compelled to restore the completeoriginal edition, as much as possible.

Conductor Richard Blareau (1910-1979), a conductor since 1937, recorded his 24 scenes in two acts from Giselle on 1 June 1953. Blareau certainly has the pageantry of the ballet foremost in his mind: witness the scale of sonic splendor in La Chasse from Act I. The Burgmueller interpolation, Pas seul, makes its way into this edition, and we can well appreciate the music’s capacity to fulfill a ballerina’s en pointe. The National Opera brass and battery make a royal sound for the Galop and Act I Final et scene de folle. Despite this music’s evident success with dancers and choreographers, I have consistently consigned its emotional and lyric material to second place after such masters as Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, and Delibes. The droopy tunes that serves as Giselle’s and the Wilis’ leitmotifs too often sounds like weak Gounod or simply weak tea. Conductors like Ermler, Karajan, Martinon, and Marriner, would beg to differ with me, however, and have engaged their own players in commendable records of their enthusiasm.

Act II devotes itself to the old conceit of love and death, having followed the gamekeeper Hilarion’s revelation in Act I of Loys’ true identity as Duke Albrecht – engaged to Bathilde, daughter of the King of Kurland – in an attempt to win Giselle for Hilarion himself. Act II transpires in the woods, near betrayed Giselle’s grave.  The music of the spirits of the dead, the Wilis, projects no small degree of power in their first appearance, led by their queen Myrtha. The Prince and the specter of Giselle have their elegant moments in the sun, or at least in the misty shadows. The entrance of Hilarion provides as real aural splendor, especially when we consider his fate to dance himself to death. A kind of Beethoven fate-motif announces the viola and harp’s collaboration in the colorful, extended Pas de deux: Adagio that for devotees must reach the height of sentiment. Hurtling leaps mark the Variation de Loys, music meant for the defeat of gravity. Giselle pleads with the Wilis’ Queen Myrtha to spare the life of Loys-Albrecht, which she does. The sun rises, and Giselle and her departed consort return to their graves until someone’s next production.

Conductor Georg Weldon (1908-1963) made a reputation for himself in Birmingham, in Manchester, and at the Sadler’s Wells Ballet. He recorded some good work with pianist Robert Casadesus, and he made some potent points in the music of Elgar. Weldon led some notable excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty. His Nutcracker Ballet Suite (1960, in stereo) has pretty and affable colors but rather undistinguished tempos. Weldon elicits some powerful magic out of the Marche. One Sugar-Plum Fairy sounds much like another. Good trumpet work in the Russian Dance. The Arabian Dance casts a lulling Eastern haze, but nobody can beat Stokowski in Philadelphia here. The excursion to China features lovely flute and bassoon principals. More flute gorgeousness from the flutes in the Dance of the Mirlitons, my first great love in classical music, aged six.  Vibrant harp work in the final Dance of the Flowers, where the Tempo di Valse has us all swaying in smiling nostalgia.

—Gary Lemco

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