OFFENBACH:  GaîtÈ Parisienne.  Offenbachiana.
Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra/Manuel Rosenthal, cond.

NAXOS 8.554005  (B)  (DDD)  TT:  67:54
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Gaîté Parisienne was commissioned in 1938 by Count Etienne de Beaumont  for a ballet with choreography by Leonid Massin.  Roger DesormiÈre, remembered  today mostly as a conductor (he led a famous 1941 recording of Debussy's PellÈas and MÈlisande), was commissioned to write the medley to be taken from works of Jacques Offenbach. However,  DesormiÈre was too busy to take on the task so young Manuel Rosenthal was assigned the project.  Already he had composed several successful operettas. He was but 34 at the time, and enthusiastically compiled a group of polkas, waltzes and mazurkas from scores by Offenbach, reorchestrating many of them, ending the ballet quietly with the "Barcarolle"  from The Tales of Hoffman.  Rosenthal even wrote one short section of his own for inclusion in the ballet (No. 14  "The Duel").  GaîtÈ Parisienne had its premiere in 1938 in Monte-Carlo and since has been a favorite both on the stage and in concert halls. Rosenthal went on to a rather extensive career as a conductor.  He was for some years principal conductor of the French National  Radio Orchestra and from 1948-1951 conducted the Seattle Symphony. In the mid-fifties he recorded many of the major works of Ravel (with whom he studied) and Debussy.

Rosenthal recorded GaîtÈ in 1953 with the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, and in 1976 made his famous recording with the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra  available for many years on EMI (63136) currently out of the catalog.  The latter was a dazzling performance which set  the standard for others. Now we have a recent recording by Manuel Rosenthal with the same orchestra recorded in 1996 when the conductor was 92 years old, doubtless a record for longevity for a recording conductor.  Notes accompanying the new Naxos CD have some inaccurate dates, also stating that Rosenthal  wanted to record "a benchmark version" that would bring out details not heard before, and tempi would be slower so that more could be heard. 

Unfortunately it doesn't work. Tempi are, indeed, uniformly slower than the 1976 recording; every section is slower, even the famous "Cancan" (2:24 in the new version, 2:05 in the old).  All of it sounds lethargic, the sparkle is gone, orchestral playing lackluster.  And the sonic quality is unexceptional, not that better sound would help the performance.  The CD is filled out with Offenbachiana, assembled in 1953 from other works of Offenbach, receiving an equally disappointing performance.  Let us hope that Rosenthal's 1976 recording will be reissued soon; in the meantime if you want this music try Arthur Fiedler's performance with the Boston "Pops" in its "Living Stereo" incarnation (61847) or Antal Dorati with the Minneapolis Symphony (Mercury "Living Presence" (34365).  However, at budget price, you just might want to have this memento of the oldest recording conductor.

R.E.B. (Oct. 1999)