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Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
Symphony in C Major (1855) [29.34]
Carmen Suite No. 1 (publ. 1882) [10.15]
L’Arlésienne Suite No. 1 (1872) [17.46]
L’Arlésienne Suite No. 2 (1879) [17.01]
Aarhus Symphony Orchestra/Marc Soustrot
rec. Symphonic Hall, Aarhus, Denmark, 6-10 June 2016

It seems incredible that Bizet’s Symphony in C Major was written by a seventeen year old student of Gounod at the Paris Conservatoire. Equally remarkable is that it was never performed in his lifetime. It languished until its first performance in 1935 conducted by Felix Weingartner.

It is akin to Gounod in style but it is generally considered to be far superior. What is so amazing is its exceptionally bountiful outpouring of memorable melodies. The Symphony is predominantly sunny and has a fresh out-of-doors appeal. I remember loving this work many years ago as I was learning all about classical music and was greatly taken with Beecham’s recording.

Soustrot and the well drilled Aarhus Orchestra clearly enjoy this music. They perform it with élan and enthusiasm, relishing and gratefully shaping each and every melody. The opening Allegro vivo is bouncy and brisk. The Aarhus players’ reading has joyous attack and just that right amount of sweet sentimentality to carry off the lovely broad melody that contrasts with the more boisterous episodes. The Adagio slow movement is graceful and maybe a tad wistful with another moving melody sung floridly by the oboe. Then another lovely, serene, long-breathed tune is sung by the violins before a fugue enters so full of charm that one might forget its academic convention. The Scherzo, somewhat balletic, swings and skips along merrily before the arrival at 0.54 of yet another gorgeous melody. The Finale is marked Allegro vivace and it is a spirited ‘perpetuum mobile’. Yet again another haunting tune arrives on the scene. The whole ends cheekily: charming and cheery.

After Bizet's death his friend Ernest Guiraud compiled the two suites of orchestral music from Bizet’s fabulously successful Carmen. The transcriptions faithfully follow Bizet’s orchestrations. This performance of the Suite No. 1 culminating in the famous swaggering Toréador's theme is a little too restrained; it needed to be more abandoned.

Guiraud also compiled the second of the two suites from the L’Arlésienne incidental music. Bizet had originally composed 27 numbers as his incidental music for Alphonse Daudet’s play - which was not a success. This included folk music both genuine and fabricated.

L’Arlésienne Suite No.1 begins with the Prelude and is marked Allegro deciso. At first I thought Soustrot’s reading too careful, too deliberate rather than decisive but his direction soon became freer and more expressive, the march sturdier. The warm recording allowed freedom for all the inner parts to be appreciated. The plaintive saxophone melody treads its melancholy path. The subsequent darker almost dirge-like material builds to a tragic melodramatic climax. The following graceful Minuet has bucolic charm especially its secondary winding, twisting melody, sinuous and seductive. The third movement is a gentle Adagietto almost lullaby-like. The First Suite is rounded off with a Carillon, marked Allegro moderato. The bells sound out peaceably and sweetly serene as though announcing a wedding. A coy-ish, almost regretful, swaying melody follows on woodwinds and strings. Horns then announce tolling of a darker nature against this tune.

The L’Arlésienne Suite No. 2 opens with a Pastorale. Tolling figures, somewhat darker, tie in with the last movement of the First Suite before the material becomes pastoral in nature. Faster tempi then announce a swirling dance, reminiscent of gypsy music; the woodwinds score especially well here. The second movement, Intermezzo’s opening admits dark-hued horn calls presaging threatening drama. Then comes another one of Bizet’s heartfelt melodies. It is almost hymn-like in its supplication before the melody passes into more earth-bound pleadings. The third movement is another Minuet. It's another gem of a gentle graceful melody - a clarinet song weaving intricate figurations above a harp. Finally comes probably the best known movement from this Suite if not from the whole L’Arlésienne music, the bombastic Farandole with Soustrot letting himself go to rousing effect.

These are pleasing performances of Bizet’s exquisite and tuneful music and are captured in best Danacord sound.

Ian Lace
Previous review: John France



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