OFFENBACH: Overtures: La Vie Pariesienne; Orphee aux Enfers; Monsieur et Madame Denis; La Belle Helene; La Grande Duchesse de Gerolstein; Barbe-Bleue; DELIBES: La Source–Ballet Selection – Vienna State Opera Orchestra/Hermann Scherchen/Paris Conservatory Orchestra/Peter Maag (Delibes) – HDTT HDCD145 (CD-R), HDVD145 (DVD-R), 65:20 ****:
Another audiophile delight from HDTT, here taking the Scherchen tribute to Jacques Offenbach (whose birthday, June 20, he shares with Errol Flynn) operettas from 4-track Westminster prerecorded tape of superior stamp. The sonic separation comes across quite vividly: the flute and snare drum in La Vie Parisienne, the deep, resonant cello solo at the opening of Orpheus in the Underworld and the snare drum and brass flourish at the big climaxes. While Scherchen (1891-1966) maintained a repute for difficult, even recalcitrant, modern scores, he must have kept a very soft spot for music of charm and grace, since these VSOO evocations of the French boulevard and dance-palace reverberate with idiomatic good humor.
Monsieur and Madame Denis I did not know, but its lovely waltz-theme, somewhat repetitiously, achieves a swirling momentum and later march that proves quite infectious, with the flutes and mock-militant gait we associate with Franz von Suppe. The opening staccato riffs for La Belle Helene, with delicate motions from the harp and flutes, certainly places the VSOO among the virtuoso ensembles. When this spectacular piece takes off, trumpets and strings ablaze, watch out! Immediately, the dynamics subdue and the orchestral rendering of “Au Mont Ida” catches our fancy. The entire latter half of the overture testifies to a deft hand leading an illuminated, responsive orchestra, first class. More pomp for the Grand Duchess of Gerolstein, the formula now well familiar, although the pregnant pauses here delicately burst into song over pizzicato strings, then another waltz and barcarolle. The remainder sounds like Offenbach’s answer to Rossini’s William Tell. Finally, Bluebeard makes his appearance – strings, drums, and bells announcing his dotted motif. The main theme is more serpentine than the others, perhaps a touch of Berlioz. Then the old procedures ensue: march and flurried scherzino, winds and trumpets on fire for a moment; another poised gavotte-waltz interrupts and sings out to a series of wonderful woodwind slides and a raucous conclusion worthy of many dancing legs of the Moulin Rouge.
The Delibes ballet The Source (or Naila, 1886) proceeds conventionally enough, sparkling and tingling; if someone tried to convince me the music was by Massenet or Saint-Saens, I wouldn’t argue. The flute sections remind of me of Lakme, afloat with sweetly sentimental melodies and cuddly strings. The pomposo sections sound like cheap Carmen clones. Peter Maag (1919-2001) might be wasted on this rather insignificant score; but composers like Dohnanyi and Tchaikovsky always gave Delibes his due, so maybe it’s me. Though the track listings on the label count 7, my disc ran through to 16, and I had a sudden pitch dropout somewhere in band 15. Buy it for the Offenbach.
— Gary Lemco
[Again, the DVD-R version at the same price is the one to get if your setup passes the 96K/24 bit audio successfully and you have a DVD player…Ed.]