Lalo: Suites and Valse de la Cigarette from 'Namouna'; Overture to 'Le Roi d'Ys'; Symphony in G minor. Estonian National Symphony Orchestra / Neeme Järvi. © 2024 Chandos Records Ltd


One of the Happiest French Symphonies

GERALD FENECH is impressed by Édouard Lalo's orchestral music

'Neeme Järvi and his Estonian National Symphony Orchestra players deliver performances full of expressive power, rhythmic intensity and harmonic vitality.'


One of the most ingenious French composers of the late Romantic era was Édouard Lalo (1823-1892). Sadly, despite many a fine composition, his main lasting work remains the Symphonie Espagnole, a violin concerto in five movements. This album, which focuses on other fine symphonic pieces by the composer, should put the record, if not totally straight, near to that goal.

'Among too many stupid ballets', Debussy wrote at the turn of the century, 'Lalo's Namouna is something of a masterpiece'. Such an estimation is well in keeping with the score's glowing colour, melodic richness, rhythmic verve and overall vibrancy. Given the constraints under which the ballet was composed, one can only marvel at its wealth of ingratiating invention. Disagreements between Henri Blaze de Bury (critic), Charles Nuitter (librettist) and Lucien Petipa (choreographer) induced Lalo to postpone composition until July 1881.

Set on Corfu, the ballet relates the story of a slave girl passed between two wealthy playboys on the turn of a bet. Namouna's premiere on 6 March 1882 was adversely received and the work was only allowed a disappointing run of fifteen performances. Lalo salvaged a great deal of the music in two suites, recomposing and reorchestrating much of the score. This issue includes these two suites and the popular 'Valse de la Cigarette' in which Namouna rolls a cigarette for her lover.

Listen — Lalo: Valse de la Cigarette (Namouna)
(CHAN 20183 track 2, 1:09-2:07) ℗ 2024 Chandos Records Ltd :

The Symphony in G minor was Lalo's final original orchestral composition. Composed in 1885-86, this symphony was not the only one that Lalo wrote. Indeed, it was preceded by two others, but it is believed that these were destroyed. The Symphony in G minor was premiered on 7 February 1887 in Paris at the Concerts Lamoureux under Charles Lamoureux. It is a classically constructed Romantic work with the composer's Latin roots present in the melodies and orchestration. In a letter to Adolphe Julien dated 7 March 1887, Lalo stated his belief in pure music over descriptive music. Indeed, in a 1925 article in The Musical Quarterly, Lalo's work was called one of the happiest French symphonies. Still, Lalo's attractive work was sadly neglected until Sir Thomas Beecham discovered it, and the symphony was taken for all its worth.

Listen — Lalo: Adagio (Symphony in G minor)
(CHAN 20183 track 15, 3:28-4:14) ℗ 2024 Chandos Records Ltd :

Lalo's most enduring stage-work, the three-Act opera Le Roi d'Ys, tells the story of the drowned city of Ys based on the old Breton legend. Premiered on 7 May 1888 in Paris, the work is only spasmodically performed but the fiery overture is still a concert favourite.

Listen — Lalo: Overture (Le Roi d'Ys)
(CHAN 20183 track 1, 10:42-11:41) ℗ 2024 Chandos Records Ltd :

Neeme Järvi and his Estonian National Symphony Orchestra players deliver performances full of expressive power, rhythmic intensity and harmonic vitality.

Can this impressive disc start a Lalo revival? Hopefully yes. An enriching experience in great sound and presentation.

Copyright © 16 January 2024 Gerald Fenech,
Gzira, Malta



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