Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
Piano Music
Full track listing at end of review
Julia Severus (piano)
rec. no location supplied, December 2008 [CD 1] and June 2009 [CD 2]
NAXOS 8.570831-32 [71:14 + 67:27]

Familiar to modern audiences as a composer of operas and orchestral music, Georges Bizet also left a number of piano pieces, and the recent release by Naxos of all his works in this genre is a welcome addition to the discography. This recording gives a sense of the composer’s facility on the instrument. Of particular interest are the early pieces in which Bizet’s style shows the influence of Chopin, appropriately in the Nocturne and Valse collected here. The fluid melismas against the more sustained bass suggest Bizet’s familiarity with the idiom, and the pianist Julia Severus captures the style well in her performances. With the sets of character pieces, though, Bizet’s piano music seems more individual, with turns of phrase and touches of harmony that suggest, at times, the mature style that he expressed in his operas Les pecheurs du perle and Carmen. In fact, the piece “La bohémienne” conveys a sense of the two first-act arias of Carmen. With Venise the music sounds familiar since it is a transcription of Nadir’s aria Je crois entendre encore from Les pecheurs, given here an effective reading my Severus, who clearly knows the opera and also voices this piece to give a full, effective sound.

Other familiar music includes the composer’s own piano versions of the music found in the two suites from L’arlésienne. These pieces are effective because the colorful dissonances and modal shifts seem more prominent without the rich scoring that Bizet gave the pieces when he orchestrated them. Severus here is good to bring out details clearly. The famous Pastorale, for example, seems fresh in the version for piano, and the pianistic characteristics of the Farandole suggest, at times, the rich keyboard textures associated with Liszt. These pieces are also worth comparing to the more familiar orchestral versions, to gain a sense of Bizet the pianist, an image that Severus conveys effectively in her solid and often extroverted performances of these works.

While various piano music by Bizet has been available on several recordings, such as the discs by Peter Vanhove and Riccardo Zadra, Julia Severus’s performances of the composer’s collected works in this genre have much to offer because of the range of idioms involved. Severus captures well the focus of the short character pieces and is also expressive with the florid lines of the Nocturne in F. Other pieces are attractive for the qualities Severus brings out, as occurs with the Variations chromatiques, and a sample of both discs offers a sense of the styles Bizet explored in these works for piano. The sound is good, in a technically solid release – it is also useful to have the various parts of the sets of pieces separately banded for immediate access.

James L. Zychowicz

see also reviews by Brian Reinhart and Byzantion

A welcome addition to the discography.

Full track listing:

CD 1 [71:14]
Nocturne in F major [7:11]
Grande valse de concert [6:54]
3 Esquisses musicales (No. 1. Ronde turque [4:25]; No. 2. Serenade [3:43]; No. 3. Caprice [3:54])
Variations chromatiques [13:06]
Valse in C major [2:00]
4 Preludes (No. 1 in C major [0:51]; No. 2 in A minor [0:58]; No. 3 in G major [0:34]; No. 4 in E minor [0:36])
Caprice No. 1 in C sharp minor [3:02]
Caprice No. 2 in C major [1:24]
Thème brillant [2:20]
L'arlésienne Suite No. 1 (version for piano)] (I. Prelude [6:36]; II. Minuetto [2:51]; III. Adagietto [2:19]; IV. Carillon [3:55])
CD 2 [67:27]
L'aurore [3:17]
Le départ [2:11]
Les rêves [3:41]
La bohémienne [3:28]
Les confidences [5:04]
Le retour [2:48]
Magasin des familles (1. Meditation religieuse [4:41] 2. Romance sans paroles [3:33] 3. Casilda [2:22]) Venise [2:19]
Romance sans paroles in C major [3:10]
Marine [3:24]
Chasse fantastique [6:23]
L'arlésienne Suite No. 2 (version for piano) (1. Pastorale [4:56]; 2. II. Intermezzo [3:49]; 3. Menuet [2:54]; 4. Farandole [3:13])