Strauss: Le bourgeois gentilhomme Suite; Dance Suite after Couperin

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COMPOSERS: Strauss
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Le bourgeois gentilhomme Suite; Dance Suite after Couperin
PERFORMER: Montreal Sinfonietta/Charles Dutoit
CATALOGUE NO: 436 836-2 DDD
Strauss and Hofmannsthal had a lot of bother fiddling around with ill-conceived adaptations of Molière’s Bourgeois gentilhomme. After repeated flops in the theatre, Strauss eventually salvaged his incidental music, which happily assumed an independent life in the concert hall. The connection with Molière, however, serves to remind us that beneath the flamboyant orchestral colours and quintessentially Straussian textures the Bourgeois gentilhomme Suite is one of the earliest examples of 20th-century music written in a pastiche of Baroque style.

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This is made more obvious by the inclusion here of the Dance Suite after Couperin. The contrast is interesting. The Gentilhomme is allusive but not imitative, whereas the Dance Suite starts out as a passable Baroque imitation but soon assimilates hazy 20th-century harmonies and startling orchestral techniques, none more so than the miraculous imitation of a music box in ‘Carillon’.

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The Montreal Sinfonietta emerges with a different personality for each of the two works. It is delicate and even-tempered in the Dance Suite, the sudden intrusion of the tambourine in the ‘Wirbeltanz’, for instance, is apologetic and restrained. The Gentilhomme comes over, as it should, much more robust and resonant. The cut and thrust of the fencing master could pierce armour, and there is a richness to the sound which belies the small orchestra. Some subtlety is lost, but the overall effect is highly entertaining. Christopher Lambton