Most enthusiasts of British Light music will know the name of Ronald Binge for his masterly Elizabethan Serenade with its gentle evocation of an era long past as well as portraying an optimistic future under our present Queen. Other listeners may have been enchanted by the coquettish Miss Melanie or have nodded off hearing ‘Sailing By’ just before the BBC Home Service/Radio 4 late-night Shipping Forecast. However, fewer will have encountered the subtle musical picture of the most famous venues of Parisian night-life explored in Faire Frou-Frou.
When I was last in Paris, I went for a walk past the Folies Bergère in the Rue Richer in the 9 arrondissement: unfortunately I did not venture into one of the famous cabaret shows. This traditional Parisian music-hall epitomises nearly a century and a half of exotic entertainment. Few people will be unaware of the legendary Can-Can dancers as pictured by (amongst many others) the artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and the composer Jaques Offenbach.
I am not sure what Binge’s definition of ‘Frou Frou’ was. Perhaps it was the nick-name of a dancer at the Folies? Or maybe a character from a Belle-Époque novel or play. The dictionary definition is more prosaic- ‘Fussy or showy dress or ornamentation’. This would be a good definition of the archetypical Can-Can dress. Internet browsers will hardly be surprised to find the Faire Frou-Frou is now the trade name of a prestigious French lingerie manufacturer.
Ronald Binge has chosen to present a slightly more reserved picture of the Folies Bergère than Offenbach did. However, the rhythm of the Can-Can underlies the proceedings. The second section of this episodic work has an allusion to the French national anthem. However, after exploring a number of lively moods the main dance theme returns and brings the work to a subtle rather than boisterous close.