This music was reviewed
here last autumn, when Naxos made it available as a download.
It is not quite Bizet's complete piano music - if any of it
is more widely known, it is the work not featured here,
the Jeux d'Enfants for piano duet. Nor is it quite the
complete music for solo piano, as stated (in fact, the back
inlay title is 'Complete Music for Piano'); missing are the
alternative versions of the two Caprices, and the many
arrangements - the liner notes say around 200 - for both piano
solo and duet that Bizet made of other composers' music: Mozart's
Don Giovanni, for example.
Most of the pieces on this double disc are miniatures. The two
Caprices, the Four Preludes, the Waltz in C,
the Thème Brillant, Venise, Romance Without
Words, and Marine are all around three minutes or
less. As might therefore be expected, these are not profound
works, but they are very pleasing to the ear. In fact,
the latter three are both memorable and rather beautiful, in
a Chopin or Mendelssohn way, for all their brevity. Venise
will be recognisable to anyone familiar with Bizet's opera The
Pearl Fishers. It is also worth bearing in mind that Bizet
was still in his early teens when he wrote much of this music.
Then there is a group of slightly longer works - the two Nocturnes,
the Chasse Fantastique and the Grand Concert Waltz
in E flat. At between four and seven minutes, these are
noticeably fleshier pieces, and far from easy - the Chasse
Fantastique is a delicious whirlwind of notes that could
have been written by Alkan. Signs of the older, more mature
composer are much in evidence - Bizet's reputation as an outstanding
pianist was already established.
Finally, there are the longer works, lasting ten minutes and
up - the Three Musical Sketches, the Chromatic Concert
Variations, Magasin des Familles, Songs of the
Rhine and the famous Arlésienne Suites. The
Songs of the Rhine, Bizet's longest work for solo piano,
is a set of six Schumannesque vignettes based on poems by Joseph
Méry. No.3, 'La Bohémienne', and no.5, 'Les Confidences', are
particularly lovely. Magasin des Familles is not Bizet's
title, but the name of a journal in which the three works collected
together here first appeared in 1865. The three are: Méditation
Réligieuse, Romance Without Words (not the same as
the one listed separately) and Casilda (Polka Mazurka).
All are in C, but are otherwise unrelated. The first two are
reminiscent again of Mendelssohn, the third, not surprisingly,
of Chopin. The Chromatic Concert Variations are the most
dramatic work on the disc. Composed in 1868, this is a set of
14 variations with a coda that Bizet found considerable pride
in. There is much of novelty and interest here, if not quite
the profundity it may have aspired to.
Rounding off each of the discs is an Arlésienne Suite.
On their own these recordings constitute an excuse to buy this
release. These are Bizet's own transcriptions, and come across
surprisingly well 'stripped down' on the piano - at the very
least, it is a treat to hear Bizet's magnificent tunes in a
change of colour.
Julia Severus, in her first solo recording for Naxos, treats
all of Bizet's piano music with the respect befitting a great
composer, and is equal to the virtuosic demands he often makes.
These piano works might not be Bizet's finest legacy, but his
musicality and that of Severus illuminate these two discs.
Finally, there is a decent essay on Bizet's piano music by Severus
in the CD booklet. She also produced the disc; the sound quality
is very good (allowing for occasional minor 'noises off'), although
the piano is rather closely miked.
see also review by Brian