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Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
Carmen Suite No. 1 (arr. Ernest Guiraud, c. 1882) [11.58]
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Petite Symphonie (Nonet), for flute and pairs of oboes, clarinets, horns & bassoons (1885) [18.34]
Georges BIZET 
Symphony No. 1 in C major (1855) [31.31]
Scottish Chamber Orchestra/François Leleux (oboe)
rec. 2019, Caird Hall, Dundee, UK
LINN CKD624 [63:30]

This album of works by teacher and pupil Gounod and Bizet is François Leleux’s debut recording conducting the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (SCO). In addition to conducting the two orchestral works, in the Gounod Nonet for winds Leleux is directing from the oboe.

The oldest work on the album is the Bizet Symphony No. 1 in C major, from 1855. A Parisian, Bizet was only seventeen when he wrote the work and a student at Paris Conservatoire, where Gounod was his mentor. Not receiving a performance in Bizet’s lifetime, the four-movement score remained in manuscript, forgotten until 1935 when it was discovered in the Paris Conservatoire archives. Nearly eighty years had elapsed between composition and premiere when conductor Felix Weingartner introduced the score in 1935 in Basel. Entirely attuned to the unalloyed, joyful disposition of a score blanched with summer sun, the SCO plays splendidly for Leleux. The spirited opening movement Allegro vivo, which is full of energy, stands out, as does the second movement Adagio for its lovely, extended melodic line for oboe in writing that evokes for me the onset of dusk after a long summer evening.

Bizet died in 1875 aged thirty-six, just three months after the premiere of his much-loved masterpiece Carmen, consequently, the creation of a pair of orchestral suites from the opera was left to Bizet’s friend Ernest Guiraud. Leleux has chosen here to conduct the Carmen Suite No. 1 published in 1882. Bizet’s convincing imitation of Latin melodies and rhythms, especially in the Aragonaise and Séguedille, is first class under Leleux who soon creates a satisfying atmosphere of Andalusia. Those who love the Carmen melodies might investigate Rodion Shchedrin’s remarkable ‘CarmenSuite (1967) which he transcribed from the opera as a ballet score for his wife Maya Plisetskaya, a prima ballerina assoluta at Moscow Bolshoi.

Completed by Gounod in 1885 his Petite Symphonie in B-flat major is a four-movement Wind Nonet. It is scored for flute with pairs of oboes, clarinets, horns and bassoons. Gounod wrote the work for his friend Paul Taffanel, the flute virtuoso. Dedicated to the Société de Musique de Chambre pour Instruments à Vent (the Society of Chamber Music for Wind Instruments) the Wind Nonet was introduced in 1885 at the Salle Pleyel. Leleux plays the solo oboe and leads SCO section principals in an intimate and captivating performance of this exquisitely proportioned chamber work. My favourite movement for its irrepressible charm is the Andante cantabile, in which soloist Silvia Careddu relishes the splendid flute part. Noteworthy, too, is the buoyant Scherzo with the horns both heading the revelries and evoking the hunt.

Under Leleux, the SCO excel in this French repertoire with brilliant and stylish playing that feels absolutely right. Recorded for the Linn label at Caird Hall, Dundee the album has the advantage of sound quality that is equally clear and well balanced. A helpful essay in the booklet provides the essential information, too. Beautifully played, recorded and presented this is a quite delightful release.

Michael Cookson

Wind players - Gounod Petite Symphonie:
Flute: Silvia Careddu
Oboes: François Leleux, Rosie Staniforth
Clarinets: Maximiliano Martín, William Stafford
Bassoons: Jesus Villa, Alison Green
Horns: Steve Sterling, Harry Johnstone

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