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Samson et Dalila – Grand Fantasy

composer
composer
on theme from Saint-Saëns' Samson et Dalila, Op 47

 
It is something seldom heard nowadays: a colourful, self-contained 'pot-pourri' of tunes from a celebrated opera, arranged for orchestra but without any singers. Such creations were extremely popular a hundred years ago: Sir Henry Wood’s very first Promenade Concert in 1895 featured a 'Grand Selection' from Carmen, while 'orchestral fantasias' on such operas as Faust, Cavalleria Rusticana and Il Trovatore were the staples of concert fare at that time.

Here then is a revival of a splendid confection dreamed up by Alexandre Luigini, the composer of the Ballet égyptien—one of those pieces which everyone knows upon hearing but cannot quite put a name to. Luigini was born in France of Italian origin and while still in his teens conducted and composed for several French ballet companies. In 1877, he was appointed conductor of the Grand Theatre Orchestra at Lyons, and in that same year Samson and Delilah received its first performance under Liszt’s sponsorship at Weimar, although Paris had to wait until 1891 before hearing what was to become the most popular of Saint-Saëns’s thirteen operas. Luigini’s Grand Fantasy encapsulates some of the finest pages of the opera without in any way being inhibited by the original sequence of the plot: it launches straight into the finale where Delilah and her fellow-Philistines are making sacrifices in the Temple of Dagon. A brief link leads us into Delilah’s seductive Act 1 aria When Twilight is Falling, played here on the cornet, an instrument that was much in demand for solo numbers in the popular concerts of Luigini’s day. The brass section is retained for the Act 1 Spring Chorus, and then the listener is lulled into a state of anticipation with a familiar oboe cadenza. The unwary will think that this heralds the celebrated Bacchanale, but Luigini is just teasing: what we actually get is Samson’s stentorian aria Pray to God, also from Act 1. This gives way to the music of the Love Duet, after which the massed violins blossom forth with Softly Wakes My Heart, perhaps Saint-Saëns’s best-known and most moving operatic melody. It remains only for Luigini to concoct a stirring ending—he chooses Samson’s exhortation Let Us Rise Once Again from Act 1, bringing what can only be described as a 'fun piece' to a rousing conclusion.

It should be noted that owners of ancient 78s might just have an old Regal recording of this music on which Percy Pitt conducted the BBC Wireless Orchestra. However, that was a heavily abridged performance, tailored no doubt for the four-minute sides. This version is absolutely complete, justifying 'World Premiere Recording' status!

from notes by Edward Johnson © 2019

Recordings

Saint-Saëns: Africa & other orchestral works
Studio Master: SIGCD2162Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available

Track-specific metadata for SIGCD2162 track 7

Artists
ISRC
GB-LLH-19-02148
Duration
13'35
Recording date
19 January 1993
Recording venue
All Hallows, Gospel Oak, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Tim Handley
Recording engineer
Nicholas Parker
Hyperion usage
  1. Saint-Saëns: Africa & other orchestral works (SIGCD2162)
    Disc 1 Track 7
    Release date: April 2007
    Download only
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