This is big-band Offenbach on modern instruments dealing freely with both ensemble sizes and editions, no authentic honeymoon. But Chandos’s notes are honest about the four of the 13 selections here in arrangements by hands other than the composer’s – Orphée, Belle Hélène, Gérolstein and Vie parisienne – and so we seem to have quite a chunk of the music he actually wrote in the order in which he wrote it, more than on many self-proclaimed ‘Offenbach Overtures’ discs.
An immediate attraction is the ‘Snowflakes’ ballet from Le voyage dans la lune, an 1875 opéra féerie certainly less well known on these shores. As presented here, it has a compulsively listenable range of colour and orchestral effects. These are utterly sensible and musical performances, although the richness of the orchestral sound pushes the style of the music (too) close to the Tchaikovsky ballets that Järvi has been recording in Bergen. Minkowski’s performances on ‘Offenbach Romantique’ (Archiv, 4/07) with cheeky, forward wind soloists are more skittish, dancey and theatrical, the tipping point of his crescendos more exciting – what we hear as more ‘French’.
A similar relative lack of French sauce – in this case, not enough enjoyment of the military pomposity that is a constant endless target of Offenbach’s musical satire – differentiates Järvi’s interpretation of the late success La fille du tambour-major from Marc Soustrot’s 1994 version with the Pays de la Loire PO (Pierre Verany – nla). If you want non-Offenbach arrangements at their busiest, noisiest and, dare one say, crudest, Antal Dorati’s 1948 assault on La vie Parisienne takes some beating.
The performances are caught in lively fashion by a Chandos team familiar with Geneva’s Victoria Hall, and the collection makes for entertaining listening – as always because of the sheer sweep of the melodies from this composer. But a more genuine Offenbach sound can be found on discs under Minkowski, Weil (Sony, 1/94) and, if you can still find them, Antonio de Almeida.