François Laurent
Diapason (France)

4 Diapasons

Guillaume Tourniaire returns to Saint-Saëns and Orchestra Victoria for some new premiere recordings. Of the ballets he has excerpted from four operas, only that from Henry VIII (1883) is already known (Andrew Mogrelia has made a notable recording for Marco Polo). That’s probably why he presents only two numbers from that score, including ‘Danse de la Gipsy’. For the rest, we go from discovery to discovery. The festivities marking St John’s solstice that open the third act of Etienne Marcel (1878), with students, harlots and bohemians, mixes historical pastiche (the ‘Musette Guerrière’ is inspired by Couperin, the ‘Pavane’ and ‘Valse’ in the style of the time). It’s the same for the divertissement from Ascanio (1889) which takes the form of a mythological tableau given in honour of Charles V. Pieces in a Renaissance style (‘Apollon’, for example, borrows its tune from Traité d’orchésographie) alternate with music closer to Delibes and Tchaikovsky. The disc’s jewel is the adagio and variations especially composed for the solo flautist at Opéra Garnier, the beloved Paul Taffanel. Is it any coincidence that the instrumentalist personifies Cupid? Hats off to Lisa-Maree Amos who executes this passage with surpassing grace.

Because Saint-Saëns made the ballet for Les Barbares comparatively short, Tourniaire takes the opportunity to include the opera’s Prologue. It’s a sombre piece with the Germanic enemy depicted with Wagnerian foreboding. His later defeat is celebrated with the joyous rhythms of a farandole and a battery of solemn brass...The tenderness that Tourniaire brings to this magisterial instrumental music and the intelligence and rarity of the program are all quite enchanting...