Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
Clovis et Clotilde - Cantata à trois voix (1857)[34:26]
Te Deum (1858) [18:12]
Katarina Jovanovic (soprano); Philippe Do (tenor)
Mark Schnaible (bass)
Choeur Régional Nord - Pas-de-Calais
Orchestre National de Lille/Jean-Claude Casadesus
rec. Auditorium du Nouveau Siècle, Lille, France, 6-9 July 2009
NAXOS 8.572270 [52:38]
Here are two youthful works by Bizet written while he was still a student. Both are dramatic and theatrical, not surprisingly considering the future operatic work of this composer. His Clovis et Clotilde gained him second place in the prestigious Prix de Rome competition but it was decided that Bizet should be the one that was sent to Rome. Bizet’s Cantata tells the story of the Frankish King Clovis and how he was converted to Christianity through his wife Clotilde. This was before he went on to establish Frankish rule throughout what is now France through victorious battles.
This rare performance of Clovis et Clotilde displays Bizet’s remarkable early confidence. It begins with an imposing Overture, noble and heroic with a tender middle section that nods towards Mendelssohn and Schumann. Scene 1 has a recitative in which an anxious Clotilde awaits news of Clovis away at battle but convinced of his success. Following on is her aria ‘Romance’ in which she fondly remembers his handsome looks, his romantic nature and his prowess with the javelin. Glorious-voiced Katarina Jovanovic finely balances queenly dignity with wifely concern. Scene 2 comprises an impassioned dialogue between Clotilde and Bishop Remigius (an oaken-voiced and authoritative Mark Schnaible) who encourages her to pray for her husband’s victory. Scene 3 has Clotilde at prayer pleading for the safety of Clovis. This is a deeply poignant episode with Jovanovic most affecting. Scene 4 comprises four thrilling heroic duets between Clovis and Clotilde in which a virile but somewhat lightweight-voiced Philippe Do - in comparison to the darker-coloured more imposing voice of his Clotilde - discusses the details of his victories. Casadesus’s orchestra vividly sketches in the battle scenes. Scene 5 has the Bishop pouring blessings and prayers for peace and prosperity on Clovis’s France and its peoples - all this over an exquisite, rippling harp solo. The three singers join in an exciting and enraptured trio of celebration. In short this is a work of youthful ardour that should have received more recognition.
No less committed is Bizet’s grandiose Te Deum - written with the memory of Berlioz’s grand work echoing in his head one might imagine. The Te Deum was written one year after Clovis et Clotilde while Bizet was studying in Rome. The work failed to win a prize. Consequently Bizet shrugged it off thinking that religious works were not really his forte. It remained unpublished until 1971. It has to be admitted that this reviewer, new to this work, felt that the Tu rex gloriae movement leans perilously towards banality at times. It is saved by Jovanovic in full-throated powerful mode. In the moving Te ergo quaesumus she is correspondingly tenderly affecting. Bizet is at his most comfortable in the opening Te Deum laudamus where he is in full-blooded heroic mode. Philippe Do is more impressive in this work allowing full rein to the lower register of his voice.
Two colourful youthful works, full of ardour, and worth consideration.
Ian Lace 

Two colourful youthful works, full of ardour, and worth consideration.