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“French Music for Ballet”
Henri Sauguet: Les Forains
Jules Massenet: Hérodiade: Ballet Suite
Jacques Ibert: Les Amours de Jupiter

Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, Neeme Järvi (conductor)
Recording: Estonia Concert Hall, Tallinn, Estonia (May 30-31 and June 1, 4-5, 2018) – 68’19
Chandos #CHAN 20132 (Distributed by Naxos of America) – Booklet in English, German and French

Alongside Neeme Järvi’s name comes a massive resume of partnerships with orchestras around the world, especially inside his native country, Estonia. Serving as Principal Conductor of the Estonia National Symphony Orchestra (ENSO) between 1963 and 1979, Maestro Järvi returned to this blue-ribbon enterprise in 2010, co-titled as Principal Conductor and Artistic Director. While amassing close to 500 recordings, he’s also collaborated with Chandos Records for over 30 years. Such endeavors have even included multi-year projects such as Johan Halvorsen’s "Orchestral Works" spanning over three years.

Having earlier captured three of Tchaikovsky’s full-length ballets, once again, Neeme Järvi weighs in on the genre with two modernist marvels by Henri Sauguet and Jacques Ibert. The Sauguet/Ibert common denominator centers around the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées’ new ballet company with pivots to Roland Petit and Boris Kochno.

Dedicated in memory to Erik Satie, Henri Sauguet’s Les Forains stakes claim on a circus troupe in this coup d’œil of ‘life under a tent.’ The ENSO’s rigorous investigation of Sauguet’s ‘colorful thinking’ is a cross-pollination of ebullient futurism and semi-permeable post-Romanticism. Reminisces of Richard Strauss’ Schlagobers (1924) distantly prevail in several of the sections while the “Vision d’Art” could be described as threading between whiffs of Ravelian rhythms and Glazunov cadences. Use of the xylophone immediately channels Kabalevsky’s Comedians’ Galop (1940.) But intrigue crowds the ring during the vestige of “Les Sœurs Siamoises” (“The Siamese Sisters”) while the ballet’s pas de deux is draped within quirky gyrations of “Le Prestidigitateur et La Poupée” (“The prestidigitator and the Doll”.) Overall, Les Forains has an agreeably kinetic effect on the listener. Personally, it’s the most persuasive and impressive of the three selections.

On balance, the second bracket, Les Amours de Jupiter, has a galaxy of massive tonality with flocks of occasional skittish stridencies. Neeme Järvi vibrantly mobilizes horns and drums to the forefront as Jupiter’s amorous adventures begin to unfurl. The fresh outlook into the god of sky and thunder has grand outlines and tends to well-gel the mind. What to expect in this music? Think mild depictions of Stravinsky’s bold L’Oiseau de feu, Pierné’s Cydalise et le chèvre-pied, Zemlinsky’s Der Zwerg and generalized Debussyian impressionisms. M. Järvi holds the listener’s attention and gives strength to Ibert’s amenable reaches.

Sandwiched in the middle of this CD we oddly find Jules Massenet’s ballet music from his third opera, Hérodiade (1881.) Due to ‘biblical amorousness’ plotted by librettist Paul Milliet, Paris Opéra’s then director, Auguste Vaucourbeil, prevented Hérodiade from holding its premiere at the Palais Garnier. Nigel Simeone’s written content is informative, although this album doesn’t explain the inherent connection between the two bookended works other than, perhaps, simply falling under the broad canopy of “French ballet music.” For this reviewer, however, this petite suite is enthralling and persuasive as only Massenet could do. Turning to “Les Phéniciennes”, one reflects on his subsequent 1891 opera, Le Mage. The ENSO’s interpretation is soothing and dulcet. In contrast, however, the “Finale” (reminiscent of Saint-Saëns’ “Bacchanale”) plods and fizzles.

When all is said and done, Chandos’ CD is a great discovery since it reaches outside the boundary of better-known French ballet music...it’s worth a look.

Christie Grimstad




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