Elegant, Raucous, and Charmingly French

Apr 29, 2019

Even with more than 500 recordings to his name, conductor Neeme Järvi continues to be curious. His latest recording explores the uniquely charming sound of French music for ballet, and it’s WCRB’s CD of the Week.

French composer Henri Sauguet wrote his first ballet after Erik Satie had introduced him to the famed Russian dance impresario Serge Diaghilev. Sauguet went on to write operas and scores for radio and film, but his heart was always in the ballet. In 1945, when the dark years of Nazi occupation were over and Paris was liberated, choreographer Roland Petit’s dance company premiered Sauguet’s ballet Les Forains (The Show Folk) which tells the simple story of a slightly tattered circus troupe. It prompted an admiring smile from John Cocteau, who called it a “true celebration of youthfulness and dance.”

Neeme Järvi and the Estonian National Symphony have every detail in place. Listen for Sauguet’s gift for melody in the "Entrée des Forains" (track 2), and you’ll hear why its allure was turned into a song made famous by Edith Piaf. The indescribable French expertise for charm, absurdity, and ever-changing color make Les Forains a very refined bit of entertainment.

The other lesser-known ballet recorded here is by Jacques Ibert (1890-1962). He wrote Les Amours de Jupiter in 1945 while living in Rome. The extensive and excellent notes supplied by Chandos offer a nice quote by writer Claude Rostand, who says that Ibert “expresses himself in a spicy language that has a surface of modernism, while retaining a deep respect for tradition. Skill, elegance, and ingenuity.” Try out track 20, “Solo d’Europe” for a big spoonful of Ibert’s expertly silky way with an orchestra.

The CD includes the ballet suite from Jules Massenet’s opera Hérodiade. Known for Le Cid, Cendrillon, Manon, Thaïs, and more, Massenet’s brilliance is hard to miss. This sequence features dancers who are celebrating Roman victories in Jerusalem. Massenet takes advantage of the exotic parade of cultures, offering Egyptians, Babylonians, Gauls, and Phoenicians. The last, especially, is irresistibly energetic.

The best way to experience this CD may just be to move to it yourself! Your own choreography will mirror the relentless charm (and humor!) that these composers channeled from deep within.

For more information and to listen to tracks, visit Chandos's online store.

To purchase this album, visit ArkivMusic.