SAINT-SAËNS: Hélène (Lyric Poem in One Act).
Rosamund Illing (Hélène); Steve Davislim (Paris); Leanne Kenneally (Venus); Zan McKendree-Wright (Pallas).
SAINT-SAÉNS: Nuit Persane, op. 268 (for tenor, contralto, narrator, chorus and orchestra).
Steve Davislim, tenor; Zan McKendree-Wright, contralto; Amanda Mouellic, narrator.
Belle Époque Chorus/Orchestra Victoria/ Guillaume Tourniaire, cond.
MELBA SACD MR 301114-2 (2 disks) TT: 61:18 & 31:40
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STRAUSS: Songs with Orchestra. Orchestral music from Capriccio and Der Rosenkavalier
Steve Davislim, tenor; State Orchestra of Victoria/Simone Young, cond.
MELBA SACD 301108 TT: 70:10
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GADE: Jalousie. Leda and the Swan. Suite d'Amour. Rhapsodietta. Romanesca, Wedding at Himmelpind. Valse Capriccio. Copenhagen Life. Douces Secrets.
Odense Symphony Orch/Matthias Aeschbaecher, cond.
DA CAPO SACD 6.220509 TT: 66:42
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With the exception of just a few works (Carnival of the Animals, Symphony No. 3, Danse macabre, Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso and the opera Samson and Delilah), Camille Saint-Saëns' music has been unjustly neglected. The Australian company Melba is doing their part to rectify this with this 2-CD set containing premiere recordings of Hélène, which the composer called a lyric poem in one act, and Nuit Persane, a dramatic cantata scored for tenor, contralto, narrator, chorus and orchestra. Hélène was written for Dame Nellie Melba who sang the premiere in 1904 in Monte Carlo. The reigning soprano of the time must have been very pleased with Hélèn's big aria right at the beginning, as well as the sensual duets with Paris. The opera contains some lovely music. At least we now have the opportunity to hear it, and the cantata, an expansion of Saint-Saëns' earlier song cycle Mélodies persanes based on poems by Armand Renaud. This rather brief work (31:40), tells of a young girl confined in a harem. When her gallant lover arrives and carries her away, she cannot escape "the odour of death," and dies. Her lover then wants revenge on mankind, joins the whirling dervishes, sinks into an opium haze, and spirals into nothingness. This plot is well conveyed by the exotic music. Melba has provided a 100-page booklet with complete texts with translations for both of these works,. This is unusual, worthy music, welcome additions to the catalog, superbly performed and recorded. Another class act from Melba!

And another fineMelba issue is a collection of songs of Richard Strauss sung by tenor Steve Davislim, who also is featured in both of the Saint-Saëns works above. This young tenor possesses a remarkably expressive voice with only the slightest trace of vibrato. He obviously loves and understands these magnificent Strauss songs, and is aided considerably by the exquisite accompaniment conducted by the remarkable Simone Young, who is as compelling in Strauss as she is in Bruckner. Beautiful audio, with the voice perfectly placed, and complete texts and translations.

Danish composer Jacob Gade (1879-1963), not to be confused with his much more important compatriot, Niels Gade (1817-1890), is best known for his gypsy tango Jalousie. After some years as a theatre and cinema conductor, Gade came to the United States. An accomplished violinist, he played in the New York Philharmonic during the Artur Bodanzky and Willem Mengelberg era, the only time in his career he played exclusively classical music. Jalousie was first played September 14, 1925 at the Palads Theatre in Copenhagen when the silent film Don Q starring Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Astor was premiered. The tantalizing tune took off, was published extensively and in 1938 Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra made a best-selling recording for RCA. Gade wrote quite a bit of equally charming music, and much of it can be heard on this splendid Da Capo release. This recording was made a decade ago and has been remastered for SACD effectively. A highly entertaining release, indeed!

R.E.B. (October 2008)

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