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George BIZET ( 1838 - 1875) Symphony in C [28.36] "L'Arlesienne" - Incidental music* Suite Number 1 (orch. Bizet) [19.05] Suite Number 2 (orch. Ernest Guiraud 1837-1892) [17.06]   Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Francaise Royal Philharmonic Orchestra* Sir Thomas Beecham   Recorded 28 Oct & 1/2 Nov 1959. Salle Wagram, Paris. *21 Sept 1956, Abbey Road, London. EMI Great Recordings of the Century CDM 5 67231 2 [65.00]

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Ask your typical music lover about Bizet and inevitably the reply will come back Carmen and perhaps The Pearl Fishers ( or at least the duet from it). Add FairMaid of Perth, L'Arlesienne and there you have it. If this re-release of the recording of his Symphony in C brings the work to the notice of people to don't know it or who haven't heard it for years - then that's fine.

Written by the young Georges when he was 17, he never heard it played. The score surfaced in 1933 and was given its first performance under Weingartner in February 1935. The work shows skill, talent and a gift for melody which shows what may have been lost by Bizet's early death at 37.

The work bubbles over with good things. If you want a symphony to tap your feet to, this is for you. Written in the usual four movements, there is no attempt to look forward musically. It is conventional, tuneful music, under an incomparable conductor in his field. What are the attractions in this work? Brisk alert pacing in the two outer movements with clear delineation between the string sections, a second movement adagio with some fine oboe playing, lots of good work from the woodwinds and a swaggering finale.

What can one say about Sir Thomas Beecham that hasn't already been said? In certain fields of music he had no equal. The light and shade he throws on to passages, the elegance, the wit, bring to life music he liked as few others could. An unabashed Francophile (cynics have said his liking for France had something to do with the then punitive British taxes), this disc allows us to hear Sir Thomas with the French Orchestra with which he made a number of his last recordings.

As an aside, a personal plea if anyone at EMI is listening. I remember well being in Manchester about July '62. I bought 2 records - a Duke Ellington LP and Beecham with the French National Radio Orchestra. The T.B. recording was of Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique. Long gone, I'm afraid, but I still judge other versions of the Berlioz by memories of the recording (I can still recall where the side turn-over was). Please bring it back into the catalogue.

The other pieces on the disc are two suites compiled from the incidental music Bizet wrote for L'Arlesienne - No 1 by Bizet himself 20 years after his Symphony, and No 2 by his friend Ernest Giraud after Bizet's death. In both Sir Thomas used his last orchestral creation, the R.P.O.

The eight movements which comprise the two suites (one in No 2 is an extract from Fair Maid of Perth ) go through a number of emotions - the best-known piece from the parent work The March is used in both, opening No 1 and vigorously ending No 2 - lush strings for the love music (No1) and later in Adagietto of the same work, a Carillon movement, a passage for flute and saxophone in the Pastorale (No 2). Of the two works, Bizet's own is perhaps marginally more extrovert and interesting. They both illustrate the melodic gifts the man had. What the two have in common is the considerable use they make of the woodwind section. No other works come to mind which give the individual woodwind players so much prominence. In almost each section one can hear the then cream of British orchestral woodwind featured. Especially prominent is the saxophonist ( Walter Lear) who plays impeccably - and managing to sound very gallic doing so. Sir Thomas conducted as one would expect. Near perfection with his own beloved orchestra in music of his choice.

In recording terms the remastering has left us with two decent sounding studio performances. The R.P.O. in the earlier (1956) recording has a slightly fuller orchestral tone than its 1959 coupling.

I live in an agricultural area where anti-French feeling is high, personified by a notice on one stall at our local market - French goods not sold here. I think an exception should be made for this disc.


Harry Downey

 Details of the entire Great Recordings of the Century series may be seen here


Harry Downey

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