Best remembered for his operas Manon and Werther, as well as the ubiquitous Meditation for violin and orchestra from Thaïs, Jules Massenet was a prolific French composer whose immense popularity in the 19th century was followed by dramatically decreased interest in the 20th. Yet attempts to revive his music in the 21st century tend to focus on his ballets, which are immediately appealing and easy to present in concert. This 2013 Naxos release by Patrick Gallois and the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra offers the four ballets that have received the most attention: Bacchus, based on the Dionysian myth; Hérodiade, a retelling of the Biblical account of Salome and John the Baptist; Thaïs, a tale of sacred and profane love; Le Cid, taken from the play by Corneille about the Spanish warrior who fought the Moors. As is evident from the subject matter, all these ballets offer exotic music with colorful scene painting, so they are attractive to modern listeners who may not be ready to commit to the long operas from which they are drawn. Gallois and his musicians infuse these scores with high Romantic drama and passionate expression, and the evocative music is surprisingly seductive and compelling, quite apart from the action it depicts. This is a great introduction to some of Massenet's most beautiful music, and it is well-suited to fans of ballet and 19th century orchestral music.
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AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson
|Bacchus: Les Mystères dionysiaques|