We have no recordings of the Chansons de l’opéra du gueux, Milhaud’s 1937 settings for solo voice and instruments of songs from Pepusch and Gay’s Beggar’s Opera, but two new discs bear excellent performances of his version for small orchestra, Carnaval de Londres. Unlike Kurt Weill’s Threepenny Opera and its resultant orchestral suite, Milhaud’s 26 short movements use original melodies throughout. Nevertheless, Milhaud’s provocative glosses on these great old tunes are full of surprises (beginning with a syncopated, Brazilianized version of “Over the Hills and Far Away!”
Karl Anton Rickenbacher and the Capella Cracoviensis (Koch Schwann 3-1138-2) give Carnaval de Londres a spirited rendition on a disc paired with Milhaud’s orchestrations of his piano works Saudades do Brasil and Trois rag caprices, the former in a wonderful performance, the latter in a terrible one. Ronald Corp and the New London Orchestra give a smoother, subtler and jazzier reading of the Carnaval de Londres on Hyperion CDA66594, coupled with their superlative version of Le boeuf sur le toit as well as L’apothéose de Molière and Le carnaval d’Aix. L’apothéose de Molière, a charming 1948 work for small orchestra with harpsichord, based on themes by the minor baroque composer Baptiste Anet, receives a good airing on this uniformly fine disc.