Adam: La jolie fille de Gand, complete (CD review)

Andrew Mogrelia, Queensland Symphony Orchestra. Marco Polo 8.223772-73 (2-disc set).

People no doubt know French composer and music critic Adolphe Adam (1803-1856) far better for his classic ballet Giselle (1841) than for the work of this two-disc set, La jolie fille de Gand, written about the same time. So, why is this? Is La jolie that much inferior to Giselle that one of the pieces should continue as a staple of the classical repertoire while the other should fade into obscurity? The answer is simply, yes. Sometimes, the public is right. The listener comes away from Giselle humming memorable tunes. Just trying to remember anything at all from La jolie is a task, even though it is pleasant-enough music as you're listening to it.

This is not to suggest that there is anything unduly wrong with La jolie, however. On the contrary, Adam filled it with charming, agreeable music, almost all of it lighter than air fluff and wholly forgettable. Anyone who enjoys ballet or light classical music, though, will surely enjoy the piece. Still and all, a two-disc set of the complete ballet may endanger one's sugar intake considerably, or it might at least try one's patience. Perhaps it is a ballet better seen than listened to straight through or better taken in small doses, like from a single highlights disc.

The ballet-pantomime La jolie fille de Gand ("The Pretty Girl of Ghent") contains three acts and nine tableaux. With choreography by Ferdinand-Albert Decombe and a libretto by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Decombe, the work premiered on June 22, 1842 at the Theatre de l'Academie Royale de Musique, Paris.

Andrew Mogrelia
The story line should give you an idea of how deep the music's going to be. The plot, set in Ghent, Belgium, concerns a dancer named Beatrix, who is betrothed to Benedict, the nephew of a rich goldsmith. She is distracted, however, by the attentions of the Marquis of San Lucar. There follow scenes of conflict with both men, a series of dreams, and an attempted elopement. But, naturally, it all has a happy ending, and the proper girl and boy get to marry. I'm sorry. I tried to follow the plot line but I got bored. I figured I'd enjoy it more by just listening to the music and ignoring the story altogether. I suppose it would be even more appropriate to see it on stage some time, but that would seem almost impossible.

Anyway, Maestro Andrew Mogrelia (who specializes in ballet scores) and the Queensland Symphony Orchestra (of which Mogrelia is now the Music Director and Principal Conductor) do a good job performing all this, and I suspect trying hard not to make it appear as lightweight as it seems. And thanks to the fine Marco Polo recording, the orchestra sounds splendid.

The sonics on this 2000 release are quite good, as I say. I liked the stability of the sound stage and the rock-solid imaging left, right, and center. Front-to-back depth sounds more limited, though, as does the deepest bass and the highest treble. Fortunately, the audio has plenty of mid-bass warmth and room resonance to satisfy fans of concert-hall acoustic ambiance in their recordings. Definition, too, is more than adequate, if not so transparent as some all-out demonstration-class discs, and dynamics are moderately robust.

This is a welcome set for a rainy afternoon with one's feet up on the coffee table. I just wouldn't expect more in the way of musical substance than the score can deliver.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:

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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa