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Ballet Review, Spring 2012, Music on Disc
George Dorris

Camille Saint-Saëns: Ballet Music from Operas. Orchestra Victoria cond. Guillaume Tour niaire. Melba MR301130 (73:94). Saint-Saëns considered musical forms as organizing the elements of music into the communication of charm by design, an apt way of explaining the pleasures and limitations of much of his work. Charm is particularly suited to dance music, so it’s surprising that although many of his thirteen operas contain ballet sequences, he wrote only one actual ballet, Javotte. This pleasant collection offers dances from four of his operas (mostly first recordings), including an extended ballet from Ascanio (1890) and a shorter one from Etienne Marcel (1879). In Ascanio, where the convoluted plot concerns Benvenuto Cellini at the court of François I, the ballet often evokes Renaissance and Baroque dances with tunes borrowed from Arbeau. But while Etienne Marcel is set in fourteenth- century Paris, the idiom is clearly nineteenth century, with pastoral touches and a grander close. This is also true of the dances and two preludes from Les Barbares(1901), set in Roman Gaul (whose dances, like those inAscanio,were originally staged by Joseph Hansen at the Paris Opera) and two dances from Henry VIII (1885), once a light concert staple. Tourniaire brings the right French touch to his Australian orchestra, well recorded and with helpful notes. No revelations here, but much charm from a master of melody and skillful orchestration.