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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


Rodion SHCHEDRIN (b.1932)
The Carmen Ballet (1967) [42.30]
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)

Carmen Suite No. 1 (1875) [11.54]
Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo/James DePreist
24-27 June 1996, Salle Garnier of the Casino of Monte-Carlo, Monaco. DDD
DELOS DE 3208 [54.32]



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Carmen has drawn arrangers and re-animators like no other opera. A few prominent examples: the Broadway 'take' in the form of the musical Carmen Jones (still drawing the crowds), Franz Waxman's showcase Fantasy for violin (or trumpet) and orchestra (or piano) and Shchedrin's supercharged ballet.

Shchedrin's music has both serious and playful facets; rather like Malcolm Arnold's. I remember Vassili Sinaisky despatching one of the Suites at Munich's Prinzregententheater in 1995 with such mirthful delicacy that its humour actually prompted laughter among the strait-laced audience. Such mastery buoys up the Carmen work which carries the full title Carmen-Suite - Ballet Suite for strings and percussion based on themes from 'Carmen' by Georges Bizet. It was written for his wife, the prima ballerina, Maya Plisetskaya. It seems to have been a vehicle for her own artistry. It formed a central component of the USSR's cultural assault on the world in the decade after the Bay of Pigs incident. The string section is big and is contrasted with a platoon of five percussionists: one timpanist plus four others rushing around from frame to frame. The themes come not exclusively from Carmen; in Torero (tr.10) we are treated to the Slavonically apt, tense yet quiet whistle of the Danse Bohémienne from La Jolie Fille de Perth. Another import is the Farandole from L'Arlésienne. This is Carmen in technicolour with the ears engaged by lushly lit strings. The percussion are smokingly thunderous; usually earnest but occasionally deliciously naive as in the Lionel Hampton vibraphone episode in the Finale (tr.13). For plush Russian atmosphere try the Adagio where Romeo and Juliet meets Carmen. Tchaikovsky (Pathétique and 1812) and Prokofiev (Romeo and Juliet) are twisted into the fabric where the motoric persona is played by the percussion and where the melody is carried by the long-breathed string lines.

This is a brilliant work that will please adventurous newbies to the classical scene as well as balletophobes who are too used to musically flimsy scores. Neophytes who strike out from here towards other works by Shchedrin rather than to Bizet need to be very selective and stick to the orchestral suites. They may well find other works of his much harder going. Who knows, there may well be some who will find their way to the Carmen opera via this suite. This is garish and gaudy music and I love every minute of it and have done ever since hearing the Melodiya Rozhdestvensky LP. We could perhaps have done with a more vulgar and cavalier approach to the balance. This is a work that responds to the spotlight. Any of the Russian performances will deliver that bit extra but as a spot-on version of how the suite might sound in the concert-hall this is ideal.

The traditional and unvarnished Carmen suite might have seemed rather lack-lustre after the infusion of Shchedrin accelerant. In fact it comes up dazzlingly here due to the return to the scene of the woodwind and brass. DePreist and the Monégasque orchestra give a very fine performance. They are enticingly recorded as you can hear if you try the close chamber balance at tr. 16, the Intermezzo (prelude to Act III). There is some outstandingly accented oboe playing from the OPM-C principal.

For a CD set down in 1996, rather than an echo of a 1960s LP, this is rather short measure. Some more Shchedrin would have been salutary but given the excellence of DePreist's pure Bizet, even the other Carmen suite or one or both L'Arlésiennes would have been a good idea.

Rob Barnett



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