Briefly, Lalo was born in Lille on 27 January 1823. He studied violin and composition in his hometown and at the Paris Conservatory. In 1848 he was violinist in the Arminaud-Jacquard Quartet, which introduced much Germanic music to France. Although now largely forgotten in the United Kingdom, he enjoyed success with his orchestral and dramatic works. Sadly, his later life was marred by ill-health and paralysis. Édouard Lalo died in Paris on 22 April 1892.
The CD opens with the overture to Le roi d’Ys. The opera was based on the old Breton legend of a city under the waves. This was also an inspiration for Claude Debussy’s La Cathédrale engloutie. Interestingly, the Overture had already received a performance during 1876: the opera was not heard until twelve years later. The progress of the overture naturally includes various themes from the opera, including the return of the hero, Mylio, the wicked Margared and the romantic theme of Rozenn. Whether Le roi d’Ys demands revival is another matter, however, as a standalone Overture it deserves its place in the concert repertoire.
The ballet Namouna was premiered at the Paris Opera on 6 March 1882. The choreography was by Lucien Petipa, who also devised the libretto along with Charles Nuttier. The backdrop of the ballet is the Isle of Corfu, and concerns a certain Lord Adriani, who, in a bet with Count Octavio loses all his money, his boat and his beloved slave girl, Namouna. For better or worse, she falls for the Count, frustrates Adriani’s attempts to get her back, and finally escapes from the island on a boat. Lalo wrote an Introduction and twenty-three numbers. The liner notes explain that some of these dances “advance the action” while other are simply for dancing. After the initial run of performances, Lalo felt that there was little chance of a revival, so he extracted three Suites. Only the first and the second were published.
Musically, these “dances” are
eclectic. Echoes of different composers find their way into these pages –
Grieg, Tchaikovsky, Bizet… Contemporary critics railed against its “Wagnerian”
passages, as being “noisy and intrusive.” It seems pointless to try to
extrapolate the plot of the ballet onto the ten movements included on this CD.
Besides, the extracts do not follow the order of the story. I guess that
listeners to these two Suites will simply enjoy them as standalone
The Third Suite from Namouna was never published, but the Valse de la cigarette from the first act was issued separately, no doubt in the hope that it would become a potboiler. The “visuals” featured the lead ballet dancer rolling her own cigarette “so she finishes the dance while smoking.” It is an enchanting Valse lente.
Lalo’s Symphony in G minor (1886) is the only one published. I understand that there were/are two unpublished examples. The present work was premiered in Paris, on 7 February 1887 during the Concerts Lamoureux. It was conducted by the dedicatee, Charles Lamoureux. The symphony is classically constructed in the traditional four movement form. The liner notes call attention to the “cyclic” theme used in the “solemn introduction” that recurs at the end of the Adagio and is used to develop material for the finale. The Scherzo is typically will o’ the wisp in its lightness, although the “trio” section is based on a lament from Lalo’s opera Fiesque (The Genoese Conspiracy). Then, a romantic slow movement which is quite beautiful, complete with touches of Wagner. The finale is dance-like with a few magical moments of repose. The scoring throughout is masterful.
Echoes of Brahms, Schumann and
Mendelssohn may be heard throughout; nevertheless, Lalo has produced a work
that stands in its own right: it is neither a parody nor a synthesis of other
composer’s music. It is a symphony that can stand proudly beside the
contemporaneous examples by César Franck, Ernest Chausson and even Saint-Saëns Organ
These works are played with sensitivity balanced by enthusiasm. The Chandos recording is excellent. The liner notes by Hugh Macdonald give a good introduction to the repertoire. They are printed in English, German, and French. A detailed resume is given of the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra and their conductor for this recording, Neeme Järvi. Their current maestro is Olari Elts.
This is a splendid introduction to the music of Édouard Lalo for those who wish to explore beyond the ubiquitous, but brilliant, Symphonie Espagnole.
Overture to Le roi d'Ys (1875-88)
Valse de la cigarette from Namouna (1868-71)
Suite No.1 from Namouna (1868-71)
Suite No.2 from Namouna (1868-71
Symphony in G minor (1886)
Estonian National Symphony Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
rec. 6-8 June 2022, Estonia Concert Hall, Tallinn, Estonia
Chandos CHAN 20183
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.