Notice how close to the 80-minute limit many CDs are offering recently? But what struck me even before that was the use of the improved Super Jewel Box for this CD: It is the style with the rounded corners and the much sturdier hinge design which is less likely to break as happens so frequently with standard CD cases. And this type of case has become synonymous with SACDs – only a couple of labels are releasing their SACDs in standard old-fashioned jewel boxes to save a few pennies. So I naturally assumed this disc was also an SACD until I inserted it in my player and no SACD indication appeared. Very confusing! So this is not a revival of Universal’s SACD releases. Nevertheless, the sonics are first-rate, though not surround of course.
The Offenbach Cello Concerto is the primary work here. Although it has been recorded before, this is the world premiere recording of its original version. Offenbach studied the cello from the beginning of his musical education and this is just one of many works he wrote for the instrument, which he played with such virtuosity that his friends referred to him as “the Liszt of the cello.” The previous edition of this concerto was not published until a century after its premiere in 1848, but the composer’s grandson who unearthed it trusted a cellist to reconstruct the second and third movements from piano sketches. He was unaware that autograph copies orchestrated by Offenbach himself were in the family archives, and these now constitute the new edition. The Military subtitle comes both from the martial rhythm set up by the timpani at the beginning of the work and a martial-sound funeral procession in the final movement. The composer made use of his skills and familiarity with the cello by stretching its performance possibilities to the limits in the concerto – after all, he soloed in the first movement at its premiere.
The other works on the disc come from Offenbach the operetta genius, and although only the Orpheus overture will be completely familiar to most, all of the music supports strongly the Romantique title of the CD. In these light operas the emphasis was on the sensational – in staging, costumes, and the music itself. Many were performed in one of the most beautiful Paris halls, with a full symphony orchestra and corps de ballet. Die Rheinnixen was actually a grand opera – not an operetta – and it was not (in spite of the title) a Wagner parody – although that would have probably been just like him! One of the the themes of its overture emerged again 15 years later as the famous Barcarolle in The Tales of Hoffman.
— John Sunier