North East Post
A Voice of the Free Press
Andrew Palmer
Group Editor
1:02 AM 10th February 2024

Classical Music: Lalo Orchestral Works

Édouard Lalo: Orchestral Works

Overture to ‘Le Roi d’Ys’; Valse de le Cigarette from ‘Namouna’; Suites Nos 1 and 2 from ‘; Namouna’; Symphony in G minor.

Estonian National Symphony Orchestra Neeme Järvi

Chandos CHAN 20183

Édouard-Victoire-Antoine Lalo (27 January 1823 – 22 April 1892) was a French Romantic composer of the 19th century. He considered himself to be first and foremost an opera composer, even though Le Roi d’Ys was his only opera to be performed in his lifetime.

He is now best known for his symphonic and chamber music, largely because of the highly political musical establishment in France during his time.

His compositions are energetic and engaging, which are captured on this disc by the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra with an exuberant warm sound and pellucid quality. There is nothing to dislike, and congratulations to Neeme Järvi for committing these works to disc.

All, without exception, are melodic and enjoyable to listen to. The disc opens with the overture to Le Roi d'Ys, a glorious 11 minutes where the quality of the orchestra’s opening brooding strings give way to a glorious clarinet, deliciously phrased, and equally excellent moment in the middle for solo cello. The brass section also has fun as everything rises from a crescendo to a stirring conclusion.

There’s even a waltz to a roll-up cigarette. Lalo’s ballet Namouna was commissioned by the Paris Opéra and, remarkably, was completed in just four months following extensive delays in agreeing on the subject—part of the Tales of Casanova. The action is set in Corfu, and after a successful run of fifteen performances, Lalo parcelled the music up into three ‘rhapsodies’ for orchestral performance. The first two of these were published as Suites Nos. 1 and 2. The third was not published, but the ‘Valse de le Cigarette’ was later issued separately.

In Hugh Macdonald’s excellent notes, he points out that Debussy wrote to Lalo’s son, then a prominent music critic: 'A long time ago, I was thrown out of the Opéra for overdoing my enthusiasm for that delicate masterpiece called Namouna. Your father came up with some marvellous harmony, which people then considered too hot to handle. Some of us sensed a kind of magic in such luminous music, so different from what most lazy composers were doing.’

Järvi lights up the Estonian Symphony Orchestra, which gives a fine account of the work, especially the 'Valse de la Cigarette', which has a jollity to it, and there are moments where the score shines with some agility. The 'Dances Marocaines' and 'Mazurka' of Suite 2 capture the music Lalo heard from a group of Moroccan musicians in a café during the 1878 Paris Exposition Universelle. Lalo’s orchestral textures and colours are brought out, and it is the graceful third La Sieste with harp and lovely accompaniment that is elegantly played.

Lalo’s only surviving symphony was completed in 1886, but it was somewhat overshadowed by Saint-Saëns’s Organ Symphony (1886) and Franck’s Symphony in D minor (1888), but it is a strong work that showcases Lalo’s melodic gift and forward-looking harmonic palette.

It is a symphony that has many qualities, but one can see why it was eclipsed by Saint-Saëns and Franck, although there are appealing moments. Järvi manages to bring out the spirit of the work with perceptive interpretations and good, nice tempi; along the way we have a beautiful adagio section. The final movement sets off with rhythmic energy which eventually brings this pleasant disc to its conclusion.