La jolie fille de Gand
Queensland Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Mogrelia
Naxos 8.574342-43 (reissue: rec. 1996) 133:24 mins (2 discs)
Adolphe Adam (1803-56) is celebrated as the composer of the first full-length ballet score capable of standing on its own two feet – though a concert performance of Giselle’s Act II conducted by Vladimir Jurowski didn’t rivet attention throughout. Neither Gisellenor the more lamentably-plotted ballet that followed it a year later, La jolie fille de Gand, comes within a million miles of the later masterpieces by Delibes and Tchaikovsky, or the delight we know as La fille mal gardée (ostensibly contemporary with Adam, but actually a pot-pourri ballet put together by John Lanchbery).
The best that can be said of this rarity is that it’s dansante (danceable), and elegant in support of the drama’s mime elements, such as they are (a silly Ghent girl with a talent for dance dreams of a glittering life with a Marquis, seems to be whisked off by him to Venice but wakes up to find it was only an ultimately bad dream).
Adam writes well for woodwind – the oboe carries what pathos there is, and pastoral/intimate moods are prettily evoked. The flamboyant music for the flashy aristocrats is good, too, though there’s no evocation of place (I don’t know what you’d expect of Ghent, but Venice might have had a pre-Offenbach bit of watery magic about it).
The rather thankless job of conducting the lot was well taken by Andrew Mogrelia back in 1996 (this recording first appeared on the Marco Polo label in 2001), and the Queensland Symphony Orchestra acquits itself with due aplomb. So, if you really feel you need to get a recording of this ballet, this is as good as it gets.