ADAM: Giselle–Ballet – Paris Conservatory Orchestra/Jean Martinon
Decca/HDTT HDCD202, 43:16 [avail. in various formats incl. hi-res at www.highdeftapetransfers.com] ***1/2:
When Giselle premiered in 1841, it made an instant success both for its adaptation of Heine’s legend and its consummate scoring, which broke the dry tradition of re-arranging music of old masters and providing original materials for theatrical presentation. The piano score found adherents in orchestrators like Henri Busser, Frederic Burgmueller, and Ludwig Minkus, the last of whom made several elisions and added Giselle’s variation for Petipa’s 1884 production. Jean Martinon (1910-1976) selected 19 numbers from the ballet’s thirty-plus episodes to create (5-7 November 1958) this London/Decca release taken from an LP, which in its HDTT reincarnation quite stuns us with its visceral effects in strings, woodwinds, triangle, harps, and percussion.
Those who know the basic plot of the ballet–its traditional conceit of love and mortality, as the Wilis are angry spirits of jilted lovers who punish men by forcing them to dance to death–savor the key moments: the entrance of Prince Albrecht as Loys, a peasant; the scene known as La Chasse, in which a local hunting party offers refreshments; the Galop and Scene Finale de Acte I, in which Adam anticipates musical styles later adopted by Johann Strauss, Franz von Suppe, and Jacques Offenbach; the appearance of Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis; the entrance of Loys and Wilfride; the Scene of the Wilis; and the Finale. The scoring demonstrates Adam’s immense range as a colorist, especially in the Scene of the Wilis, which features a viola obbligato of considerable girth and color. The Apparition of Myrtha calls for muted strings and harp in a most effective hue. Many of the rhythms become infectious; and we can assume that Tchaikovsky took several pages from Adam on the studied technique of matching dramatic scenes to the requirements of a choreographer. Adam establishes something like leitmotifs for his principals Giselle, Hilarion, Albrecht, and the Wilis, often gravitating back and forth between C Major, G Major and A Major. And ballet audiences well know the triumphs that have been won by the ballerinas who have made the Giselle role their own, from Pavlova to Margot Fonteyn and beyond.
My only quibble is with the brevity of the disc, which may well have served the LP format, but in its CD incarnation could well have been spliced to a Bacchus et Ariane or other Jean Martinon spectacular. I would also like HDTT to provide track timings consistently.
— Gary Lemco