Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
Complete Music for Solo Piano
CD 1
Nocturne in F [7:11]
Grande Valse de Concert in E flat [6:54]
Three Esquisses Musicales [12:06]
Nocturne in D [4:10]
Variations Chromatiques de Concert [13:06]
Valse in C [2:00]
Four Preludes [3:01]
Caprice in C# minor [3:02]
Caprice in C [1:24]
Thème Brillant [2:20]
L’Arlésienne Suite no.1 [15:44]
CD 2
Chants du Rhin [20:36]
Magasin des Familles [10:38]
Venise [2:19]
Romance sans Paroles [3:10]
Marine [3:24]
Chasse Fantastique [6:23]
L’Arlésienne Suite no.2 [14:53]
Julia Severus (piano)
rec. Berlin, December 2008 (CD1); June 2009 (CD2). DDD
NAXOS 8.570831-32 [71:14 + 67:27]

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 Reinhart

These piano works might not be Bizet's finest legacy, but his musicality and that of Severus illuminate these two discs.