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Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
Carmen (1875): Prélude [3:23]; Entracte 1 [1:37]; Entracte 2 [2:55]; Entracte 3 [4:30]
L’Arlésienne (1872): Suite No. 1 [17:29]; Extracts from Incidental music (1872) [13:58]; Suite No. 2 (arranged by Ernest Guiraud) (1879) [15:08]
Choeur de l’Opéra de Lyon
Les Musiciens du Louvre, Grenoble/Marc Minkowski
rec. October 2007, MC2, Grenoble
text and translations included
NAÏVE V5130 [59:00]
Experience Classicsonline

There have been many recordings of the two standard Suites from “L’Arlésienne” and of orchestral excerpts from “Carmen”. This disc differs from the norm in its compilation and presentation as well as in its performance using period instruments. The two Suites from “L’Arlésienne” are separated by a short series of excerpts from the original incidental music to Daudet’s play. The lavish hardback booklet includes not merely essays on the music and its context, but the short story on which the play is based and an extract from the play itself. In addition there are good, if necessarily small, reproductions of paintings of Provence by, amongst others, Van Gogh, Joan Mitchell and Gauguin. This is clearly no mere routine presentation of standard repertoire.
The extracts from “Carmen” open the disc, and were recorded following performances of the whole opera by these artists in Bremen and Paris. They benefit from both the clarity and character of the period instruments and from the freshness of response of the players. There is a clarity about the textures which is very appealing, and I look forward very much to the eventual complete recording hinted at in the booklet. The music included here is in effect the bulk of the usual Suite No. 1, with the omission of the Seguidille and the inclusion of the whole of the Prelude to Act 1 at the start, rather than with the second half at the beginning and the first at the end as is the case with the usual Suite. Somewhat oddly the first half of that Prelude is repeated at the very end of the Suite after the Prelude to Act 4. It is hard to see the point of this, but it can be avoided if you are quick to press the Stop button after the latter.
The Suite No. 1 from “L’Arlésienne” was compiled by Bizet himself soon after the unsuccessful première of the play. It ingeniously links various movements from the original incidental music to produce a very effective concert work. Suite No. 2 was put together after the composer’s death by Ernest Guiraud, and follows a similar pattern to Suite No. 1 although the third movement, a Menuet with prominent parts for flute and harp, is taken from the opera “La Jolie Fille de Perth”. Nonetheless, as the conductor remarks “its craftsmanship is unquestionable and the concluding Farandole is irresistible”. Both Suites again benefit greatly from the vivid and luminous sound of the period instruments. The conductor explains in his note that he has followed the tempi marked by the composer. In particular the Adagietto in the Suite No. 1 is played very slowly (crochet =40) but it works surprisingly well at that speed.
The original incidental music was written for an orchestra of only 26 players, including a saxophone, seven violins, one viola and piano. There have been several previous recordings of the music in this form. It is certainly worth hearing, gaining considerably in delicacy, but the very short duration of many of the movements makes a complete performance more interesting than it is satisfying. Minkowski takes eight of the original 27 movements, including the Farandole in its choral form, and succeeds in demonstrating their inherent attraction without the risk of boredom if the whole score is played. I have never seen the music included in a performance of the complete play, which would clearly have particular interest, but in the meantime this is a very good and enjoyable way to get closer to Bizet’s original intentions.
All in all, there is much to enjoy here, and Naïve can be congratulated on a disc which is a model of how to present such music to maximize the listener’s understanding as well as their enjoyment.
John Sheppard


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