Notes and Editorial Reviews
From jingling janissaries to infatuated muezzins.
The Orient, its seduction, mystery, danger and otherness held the cultural attention at various times over the last three hundred years. Its mesmeric fascination is reflected in a series of discs issued by Capriccio in the late 1980s. While Capriccio once seemed to have gone to the great temple in the sky Phoenix Edition have a tight grip on the Capriccio catalogue.
This three disc set reflects the Capriccio connection. Rarities rub shoulders with more famous oriental works. Alongside a cleanly recorded and respectable rather then fierily inspired Rimsky
Sheherazade we hear a much better Ravel
Sheherazade sung by the smoky-toned mezzo Gisella Pasino. It's a demanding cycle and Pasino keeps tight control on vibrato. All in all this is a very pleasing recording of the Ravel and one to which I shall return. Schneidt and his Berlin orchestra make a very convincing contribution.
The second disc is again in the hands of Schneidt but is more various in its coverage. The Cornelius
Barber of Baghdad is rather Weber-like - laid out like the
Oberon overtures. The skirling janissaries of Beethoven’s music for
The Ruins of Athens comes across clearly. Gluck's
Pilgrims of Mecca is represented through two Osmin-like arias. The Hasse
Turkish with chorus is rather token Turkish down to the percussion jingle. Gluck's
Omar aria sounds rather like Mozart's writing in
Magic Flute. Mozart's
Entfuhrung is also represented. Weber's
Oberon overture is nicely done in its build up of tension. Then step decades forward to the jerky energy of Saint-Saëns
Danse Bacchanale complete with castanets. This is all vividly done. Then we hear
Au Fond Du Temple Saint with Servile and Lazzaretti accorded a strong sound image. Strauss's swayingly seductive
Dance of the Seven Veils brings us into the twentieth century with its wilder percussive sounds and more tangled tonal relationships.
The most interesting disc is the first which includes Reyer's
Le Sélam. Reyer came to attention through his Wagnerian opera
Le Sélam is a fascinating piece in French romantic nineteenth century mode rather like
Samson. It's heard here in concert performance with the occasional cough. It’s something of an extravaganza in tableau form. More impressive still is the Szymanowski
Songs of the Infatuated Muezzin. It’s atmospherically done by Ottenthal and the BRSO. Nothing here however is as distinctive as Adolphe Biarent's
Contes de l'Orient or the various oriental fantasies by Tomasi, McPhee, Cowell or Hovhaness.
Its gravely regrettable that Phoenix seem to have ignored another rare work that formed part of the original
Brises d'Orient series Ferdinand David's
Le Désert. Then again it has just been issued by itself in a Capriccio digipack 5017. You might also be interested in a recently published analytical study of exotic music by Ralph P Locke ‘Musical Exoticism - Images and Reflections’, Cambridge UP, 2009).
Rob Barnett, MusicWeb International