Ever wonder where the word willies, as in "she gives me the willies," came from? It came, believe it or not, from a line in Heinrich Heine's 1835 book De l'Allemagne: "snow-colored Wilis who waltz pitilessly...in a mist softened by German moonlight." Heine was describing the legendary German maidens who die before their wedding day, and, unable to rest in the graves, arise at midnight to dance to death any man they happen upon. Reading Heine's description, Théophile Gautier was struck by the notion that this legend was eminently suitable for a ballet, and, together with Jules Vernoy de Saint-Georges, he concocted a scenario that they presented to the prolific composer Adolphe Adam. In a matter of days, the exceedingly prolific composer of more than 40 operas had transformed the scenario into a two-act ballet. Called Giselle after the lead Wilis, the work was a huge hit in Paris for a quarter of a century until it vanished from the world just before the start of the Franco-Prussian War. Almost 90 years later, this 1961 Decca recording of the complete ballet with Herbert von Karajan leading the Wiener Philharmoniker returned the work to the world, albeit in a thoroughly Teutonic interpretation. While superbly conducted, superlatively played, and sumptuously recorded, this Giselle is no will-o'-the-wisps, but rather is full-bodied and hot-blooded with charms that are hardly ephemeral and thoroughly palpable. From the lush winds to the plush strings, from the opulent sonorities to the intoxicating rhythms, from the rich textures to the ravishing colors, this Giselle will give the willies only to those phobic to aural seduction.
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AllMusic Review by James Leonard