Thursday, 21 June 2018

CD Review (The Straits Times, June 2018)

Orchestre National de Lille
DARRELL ANG (Conductor)
Naxos 8.573683 / ****1/2

How much do we actually know about the composer Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880)? For starters, he was German rather than French. He was also a virtuoso cellist who later became the most celebrated composer of operettas in Paris from the late 1850s till his death. This collection of overtures led by Singaporean conductor Darrell Ang contains some of Offenbach's most familiar and most neglected music.

Most well-known is the Overture to Orpheus In the Underworld, with its ubiquitous cancan, but has anyone noticed an oboe motif past the two-and-a-half-minute mark which resembles the fanfare from Zubir Said's national anthem Majulah Singapura? Listeners might also recognise the popular themes in the overtures to La Belle Helene and La Vie Parisienne.

The other overtures are very obscure, from operettas like The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein, The Drum-Major's Daughter, The Island of Tulipatan, Monsieur and Madame Denis, all of which are extremely tuneful and have that tub-thumping oompah quality. 

The real rarity is the early Ouverture a Grand Orchestra (1843), a stand-alone work which recalls the operatic overtures of Carl Maria von Weber and Rossini. A slow introduction soon gives way to an exciting allegro, which builds up in speed, volume and intensity, in short the archetypal Rossini crescendo. Ang and his French charges make the best possible case for this arcane corner of the orchestral repertoire.

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