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Georges BIZET (1838-75)
Symphony in C major (1855) [29:34]
Carmen Suite No.1 (pub.1882) [10:15]
L'Arlésienne No.1 (1872) [17:46]
L'Arlésienne No.2 (arr. Ernest Guiraud, 1879) [17:01]
Aarhus Symphony Orchestra/Marc Soustrot
rec. 6-10 June 2016 Symphonic Hall, Aarhus, Denmark

Georges Bizet’s Symphony in C major was composed in 1855 when he was only seventeen years of age. However, it did not enter the repertoire until Felix Weingartner gave the first performance on 26 February 1935. It is supposed that Bizet suppressed the work on account of its similarity to Gounod’s Symphony in D major. Hamilton Harty and John Barbirolli were to ‘take up’ the work in the United Kingdom. In spite of a certain lack of originality in this early student work, written under the auspices of Charles Gounod, it has long been a favourite of mine. I first heard the work on the Decca Eclipse edition of Ansermet conducting the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande: I have been enchanted by it ever since.

The critics have praised the work, by suggesting that it had the ‘spirit’ of Mozart and Beethoven, whilst acting as an early indication of Bizet’s undoubted skill as an orchestrator that was be revealed in all its glittering splendour in Carmen. This is a work that does not attempt to ‘storm heaven’; it is quite simply pure enjoyment. It is sensitively played here by the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Marc Soustrot

Around 1872 Georges Bizet composed incidental music for Alphonse Daudet’s tragic drama L'Arlésienne (The Girl from Arles): there are some 27 pieces of music, some of which last only a few seconds. The play and the music were not well received. In the same year, the composer made a suite of the ‘best bits’ which includes a ‘Prelude’, ‘Minuet’, ‘Adagietto’ and a ‘Carillon’. Seven years later (1879), after the composer’s death in 1875, Ernest Guiraud returned to the score and made a second suite, which includes a ‘Pastorale’, ‘Intermezzo’, ‘Minuet’ and ‘Farandole.’ The mood of the music is characterised by Provençal folksongs and the use of ‘local’ rhythms to create original numbers. Virtually anyone that has waved a baton has made a recording of these suites: Beecham, Ansermet, Ormandy, Stokowski et al. The Arkiv catalogue currently lists 50 versions of Suite No. 1 and 47 of Suite No.2. Various movements have been excerpted for inclusion in compilations: The ‘Farandole’ is by far the most popular. Both Suites are splendidly played on this new CD.

Little need be said by way of introduction to Carmen. It is probably the best known opera in the world, in spite of a shaky premiere and opening season in 1875. The highlights are equally popular, with the Suite No. 1 (1882) expressing much of the ‘power, passion, tenderness and drama’ of the stage production. There are five movements or sections in this present recording of this Suite: Prélude: Act I; Aragonaise: Interlude (Entr'acte) before Act IV; Intermezzo: Interlude (Entr'acte) before Act III; Les Dragons d'Alcala: Interlude (Entr'acte) before Act II; Les Toréadors: Theme from Prelude to Act I. The Séguedille, which is often included in this suite, has been omitted from this recording.

The conductor Marc Soustrot took up the position of chief conductor of the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra in August 2015. His interests and specialities include both French and contemporary music. His previous positions have included Artistic Director of the Orchestre Philharmonique des Pays de la Loire (1976-1994), the Beethoven Orchestra, Bonn (1995-2003) and Het Brabants Orkest Eindhoven (1996-2006). At present, he is also chief conductor of the Malmö Symphony Orchestra in Sweden.

As usual with Danacord, the performance of all three pieces is excellent, the sound quality is ideal and the liner notes give as much information as required.

This a great introduction to the music of Georges Bizet for those listeners who may only know Carmen and the duet from the Pearl Fishers. Old hands will enjoy ever bar of this recording. Other orchestral works remain to be discovered, including the delightful Petite Suite (Jeux d’Enfants), the Carmen Suite No.2, the rarely performed Roma Symphony and the Overture: Patrie. I hope that Marc Soustrot and the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra will bring their undoubted talents and expertise to these works.

John France



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