Neeme Järvi conducts Massenet
Admirers of Neeme Järvi’s recordings of the Tchaikovsky ballets with the Bergen Philharmonic will know that he is just the man for this collection of Massenet’s music drawn from the theatre and concert hall. From the moment the curtain rises on the ballet suite from Le Cid you can sense the roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the crowd as the Suisse Romande Orchestra snap into the opening chords. Their delicate wind phrases and the click of the castanets identify the Castillane, the first of the seven national dances from Massenet’s epic opera. We learn from Roger Nichols’s entertaining notes that Massenet, always attentive to his leading ladies, incorporated ‘quelques rythmes très intéressants’ suggested to him by the ballerina Rosita Mauri, who danced the lead role. She too would no doubt have relished the pointed playing, the shading of a phrase from crescendo to diminuendo, the sinuous line of those languorous Spanish tunes and above all the underlying spring in the step of each dance. This is a winning interpretation; and likewise the conductor’s view on the Scènes pittoresques, a charming suite. The Spanish flavour returns in the brilliant entr’acte from Don César and the ceremonial in Le roi de Lahore, where the lyrical passages invoke Tchaikovsky, who much admired this opera. Debussy doffed his hat to Phèdre, a concert overture, where the stark opening with its plunging bass-lines recalls another tragic figure, Berlioz’s Lear.
The cellist Truls Mørk is heard on an additional track, the Meditation from Thaïs, available as a download (the 81'30" running time preventing its inclusion), and more significantly in the Fantaisie for cello and orchestra, where his lovely playing, full of felicitous touches in perfect partnership with the orchestra, offers unadulterated pleasure. This collaboration is equally charismatic in an eloquent performance of ‘Le dernier sommeil de la Vierge’, where the combination of unmuted cello and muted violin, one octave up, testifies to Massenet’s unfailing ear for orchestral effect. A CD to warm the heart and lift the spirits.