This exceedingly rare anthology presents ballet music from four seldom-performed operas by the French late-Romantic composer Camille Saint-Saëns. This disc may be the only way most people will ever experience these delightful works.
We know the operatic Saint-Saëns for the most part only through Samson and Delilah and its famous aria Softly Awakes My Heart. His other operas have languished, but here we have excerpts from his Henry VIII, Ascanio, Étienne Marcel and Les Barbares – all mostly consigned to the music history books.
Orchestra Victoria under Guillaume Tourniaire makes a persuasive case for ending this neglect. If the rest of the operas are as graceful and beautiful as the ballet music suggests, then their resurrection is well overdue. The music is elegant, and surprisingly modern touches are couched in musical language wittily evoking a more Classical era.
Tourniaire weaves an orchestral tapestry of the most delicate beauty and fluidity. The orchestral sound is never excessive – this refined music is always on its best behaviour. Orchestra Victoria’s playing has a silky sheen and is layered as if translucent. Their level of professionalism makes it extraordinary that our federal and state governments and even The Australia Council are not willing to give this body of musicians the support it needs to continue its role in our cultural life.
This Melba SACD hybrid disc is compatible with all playing equipment. On my SACD player, the orchestra is in my living room, with just enough room left for the listener.