Les Ballets Russes, Vol. 7-9

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COMPOSERS: Auric; Prokofiev; Rimsky-Korsakov; Milhaud; Sauguet
LABELS: Hanssler
ALBUM TITLE: Les Ballets Russes, Vol. 7-9
WORKS: Auric: Les Fâcheux; La Pastorale; Prokofiev: Scythian Suite; Rimsky-Korsakov: Sheherazade; Milhaud: Le train bleu; Sauguet: La Chatte; Tommasini; Le donne di buon umore Suite
PERFORMER: Vol. 7: Deutsche Radio Philharmonie/Poppen; Vol. 8: SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Friedburg/Karabits; Vol. 9: Deutsche Radio Philharmonie/Reimer

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After earlier volumes featuring standard performances of Diaghilev’s more familiar ballet scores, this bold series reaches some unusual and welcome rarities from the 1920s by rising young French composers promoted by the impresario.

The odd disc out in this latest trio features a neutered interpretation of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade – all four movements, though the choreographer Mikhail Fokine began in 1910 with only three – from objective conductor Alejo Pérez. Prokofiev’s Scythian Suite, drawn from the post-Rite cod-mythological ballet Ala and Lolly Diaghilev rejected, does much better by Kirill Karabits in an atmospheric, wide-screen reading.

Christoph Poppen draws a short straw in Auric’s music for the Molière-based Les Fâcheux of 1924 – choreography by Nijinska, later Massine, and designs by Braque – which only occasionally foreshadows this composer’s later Ealing Comedy scores. Le Pastorale (1926) has a sillier tale of a postman and a film crew in the country, but Auric does better here with pretty wind solos in the opening bucolics, and a penultimate number boasting a tune much admired by Prokofiev. He preferred a third Auric ballet, Les Matelots, still to appear in this series, but perversely despised Poulenc’s Les biches (to be heard in an unsurpassable Hänssler performance, not in this series, from Stéphane Denève).

Volume Nine, conducted by Robert Reimer, is all delight. It starts with a surprisingly wistful, bitter-sweet score by Milhaud for the Riviera beach frolics of Le train bleu. Then there’s choice Scarlatti deliciously arranged in 1917 – before Pulcinalla – by Tommasini for Le donne di buon umore (though why only the suite?); and, best of all, the poised (neo) classicism of Henri Sauguet in the weird Aesop-based fable of cat and man La chatte. On this evidence there are plenty more small gems for Hänssler to bring to light.

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David Nice