Dance of the Hours (CD review)

Ballet Favourites from Opera. Decca 289 458 229-2.

I've come to love compilations of older recordings. You never know what you're going to find, especially on this disc of ballet music from operas featuring some of Decca's biggest-name orchestras and conductors. The audio, recorded between 1962 and 1988 varies, of course, but most of it is good and some of it is terrific, making the whole enterprise all the more enticing.

The highlight of the disc is the title tune, "The Dance of the Hours" from Ponchielli's La Gioconda. Made digitally in 1980, it's taken at a healthy clip by Bruno Bartoletti and the National Philharmonic Orchestra. Indeed, the gait is so quick the hours seem literally to fly by. But the best part is the sound. It's superbly translucent and open. This is due in part to a general absence of bass resonance, but, in fact, there's a general absence of bass, too, a common affliction of all of the pieces on the program. Nonetheless, it's clear, clean, beautiful sound and a joy to listen to.

Bruno Bartoletti
The next two pieces are Saint-Saens's "Air et danse--Bacchanale" from Samson and Delila and the ballet music from Gounod's Faust, both played by Charles Dutoit and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. As always from this source, the performances are urbane and velvety smooth, and the sound, from 1987 and 1983 respectively, is warm and ambient. The thing is, although I recognize the Dutoit sound as the more natural, I still preferred the clearer sound from Bartoletti on the previous track.

Next up are the only two works I didn't care for much, Smetana's "Polka" and "Furiant" from The Bartered Bride, done by Istvan Kertesz and the Israel Philharmonic in 1962. Perhaps it's my age catching up with me, but I'm less tolerant of loud, boisterous music anymore. Mussorgsky's "Dance of the Persian slaves" from Khovanshchina, with Ernest Ansermet and the L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande from 1964, was more up my alley, lighter and more exotic. There is some small background noise here and a bit more high-end edginess, but otherwise it is a fine old recording.

Richard Bonynge and the London Symphony Orchestra do up the ballet music from Rossini's William Tell nicely, and the 1962 sound hardly shows its age. Yet I couldn't help feeling that the music itself was not quite worth the bother. Riccardo Chailly and the Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna do an acceptable job with the "Grand March" and ballet music from Verdi's Aida. Still, there isn't a lot of bass to reinforce the spectacle, and there should be. There follows another Saint-Saens, the "Danse de la gitane" from Henry VIII follows, again with Richard Bonynge and the LSO, this time from 1971. It holds some small interest. As does the program's concluding number, Gounod's waltz from the opera La Reine de Saba, from the same source. This is a most charming piece and bears a striking family resemblance to Gounod's second-act waltz in Faust.

At mid price, the whole affair seems a worthy purchase for listeners who don't already have favorites in some this material or just want a lot of it in one place.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

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.

Mission Statement

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.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to pucciojj@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa