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WORKS: Suites & overtures from Céphale et Procris, Lucile, L’ami de la maison, Zémire et Azor, Le jugement de Midas,
PERFORMER: Orchestre de Bretagne/Stefan Sanderling
Dubbed ‘the Molière of music’, Grétry (1741-1813) was the key figure in the evolution of French opéra comique. His watchwords were ‘truth, realism, simplicity and sincerity’, and by his own admission his gifts were for melody rather than ‘strict and complicated harmony’. So it turns out here. The three dance suites have a distinctive – and very Gallic – vein of melodic charm. But the thinness of Grétry’s harmony is tactlessly emphasised over 70 minutes of music, much of it in D and C major. The overtures tend to chatter brightly and vacuously in the lingua franca of the day, though the one to Guillaume Tell is more ambitious, with its colourful sonorities, its haunting opening ‘Ranz des vaches’ (later reused by Rossini) and its flamboyantly theatrical Allegro. Most alluring of the dance suites is the one Thomas Beecham concocted from the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ opera Zémire et Azor: abetted by Beecham’s touched-up orchestration, the ‘Pantomime’ and ‘Entr’acte’ have a delicate, languid sensuality, more Watteau than Molière. Purists should be warned that the Céphale et Procris suite, including a catchy ‘Tambourin’, is also given here in a Romanticised rescoring. Performances are neat and shapely, with some elegantly turned wind solos, though the violins sound a shade scraggy when they rise above the stave. Richard Wigmore