This live performance of Offenbach’s witty, tuneful, swift-moving operetta smacks of the theater: in addition to some audible movement (not bothersome), the singers play off one-another in a marvelous manner, making the whole work gleam. Marc Minkowski’s field of expertise apparently is not only French Baroque–he leads with energy, charm, and an ear for Offenbach’s pointed orchestration (the brass is heard at its shiniest here) and reinstates some music dropped after the premiere (for whatever reason), including another little aria for Paris. The dialogue has been coyly updated and it works…
The subject matter could not be different, but these two releases are extraordinarily special in their respective fields. And since both are vocal works, ergo their pairing in the interest of conserving space. But which to consider first? No disrespect is meant much less implied if we throw a chapeau in the air first for a painstaking critical edition by Jean-Christophe Keck of the libretto by Meilhac and Halévy for Jacques Offenbach’s political satire disguised as a jeu de’esprit, created for Napoleon III’s Grand Exhibition of 1867. R.D. (December 2005)
The epic grandeur of Der Rosenkavalier stems not just from its immense length (over three hours) but from the all-too-human complexity of its characters–each of whom is smitten with someone else–and the endless stream of graceful melodies the composer conjures. After the tonality-stretching dissonance of Salome and especially Elektra, Strauss moved onto a different musical path here: the music's sheer gorgeousness has given this most heartbreaking of 20th-century operas its pride of place in the repertory.
This is a pick 'n' mix but nevertheless interesting assembly of Francis Poulenc's highly imaginative settings of French poetry. It ranges from the sublime to the inscrutable, with plenty of doggerel along the way. Like many other discs before and since, this is, in essence, a Felicity Lott with Graham Johnson showcase, and Poulenc, opuses plundered, takes a bit of a back seat. But even so, the brilliance of his writing is irrepressible as he turns numerous sows' ears into little silk purses. Anyone more interested in discovering Poulenc than Lott will not be disappointed at this taster.
Since the end of the seventeenth century French composers have shown a particular skill and deftness of touch in writing for the flute. The instrument owes much of its prominence in French music of the twentieth century to the use made of it in orchestral colouring by composers such as Debussy and Ravel, as well as to a group of highly gifted players associated in one way or another with the Paris Conservatoire. They include the soloist on this recording, Patrick Gallois, a pupil of Jean-Pierre Rampal. This collection of works composed during the last sixty years ranges from Poulenc’s Sonata, marked by rhythmic vitality and a delicate vein of sentimentality, Messiaen’s Le merle noir, inspired by bird song, to Boulez’s Sonatine, which the composer himself has characterised as ‘organised delirium’.