Delibes Sylvia/Saint-Saëns Henry VIII

Author: 
Andrew Lamb

Delibes Sylvia/Saint-Saëns Henry VIII

  • Sylvia
  • Henry VIII, Ballet-divertissement:
  • Coppélia
  • (La) Source, ou Naïla, SUITE No. 2
  • (La) Source, ou Naïla, Intermezzo: Pas des fleurs (Grande valse)
  • (La) Source, ou Naïla, SUITE No. 3

Of Delibes’s two full-length ballets, Coppelia is the more obviously popular, the one with the bigger tunes and the greater number of recordings. However, both are superbly crafted scores, full of haunting melodies and superbly well scored. When they are as beautifully performed as here, both are well worth hearing complete. Following on from his earlier Sleeping Beauty (4/93) and Giselle (4/95) these latest recordings mark Andrew Mogrelia’s Naxos series as one to be followed and treasured. The virtues of his conducting strike me even more vividly here than when I reviewed Giselle last year. There is loving care applied to selection of tempos, shaping of phrases, orchestral balance and refinement of instrumental detail. In Coppelia it is apparent from the opening horn entry through to a quite scintillating final galop. In Sylvia, even more, I find myself thrilling to the Act 1 Fanfare, marvelling at the control of tempo and refinement of instrumental detail in the “Valse lente” and “Entree du sorcier”, and revelling in the sheer ebullience of Sylvia’s return in Act 2.
Were it not for the existence of Kent Nagano’s Gramophone Award-nominated recording of Coppelia I would have suggested that nobody wanting a recording of either of these two works need look any further. That was certainly IM’s view of Mogrelia’s version of Sleeping Beauty. As it is, Nagano adds just that extra touch of inspiration here and there, his faster tempo for “La discorde et la guerre” being that bit more convincing, for instance. Nagano also uses a slightly longer version of the text for Act 3. On the other hand, Nagano’s set costs around three times as much and has no fill-up.
On the matter of the fill-ups something, at least, should be said. The inclusion of the ballet music from Saint-Saens’s Henry VIII on the Sylvia recording was an admirably enterprising move, even though it doesn’t amount to anything major apart from the “Danse de la gitane” (already recorded by Bonynge for Decca), being essentially a collection of mock ‘Olde Britishe’ dances. As for the extra 35 minutes of music on the Coppelia disc, it has to be said that it represents a decidedly weird representation of Delibes’s music for La Source. His most successful contributions to the score (the “Pas des Voiles” and “Danse circassienne”) are not here at all. Of what is here, some seems to have been composed by Minkus (the “Pas de la Guzla”, for instance), and the “Pas des fleurs” is not from La Source at all. (It was composed for Le Corsaire and later used, with music from La Source, in Naila.) On its own terms, though, the fill-up represents pleasant enough listening and is equally superbly played. For various reasons those wanting a Coppelia may wish to look to Nagano, or even Bonynge; but I would rate Mogrelia’s Sylvia especially as a quite remarkable bargain.'

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