Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
Carmen: Suite No. 1 (arr. Ernest Guiraud), (c. 1882) [09:55]
Carmen: Suite No.2 (1873/1874) [19:58]
L’Arlésienne: Suite No. 1 (1872) [16:33]
L’Arlésienne: Suite No. 2 (arr. Ernest Guiraud), (1879) [16:48]
Amilcare PONCHIELLI (1834-1886)
Dance of the Hours from La Gioconda, Act III (1876) [10:20]
Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy
rec. Broadwood Hotel, Philadelphia, 26 Jan 1958 (1, 2); Philadelphia location unspecified 22 Jan 1963 (3, 4); Town Hall, Philadelphia, 16 April 1964 (5)
Notes in English, German, French, Italian
SONY SBK48159 [73.21]
Eugene Ormandy’s 44 year long association with the Philadelphia Orchestra has brought a series of recordings of the core classical repertoire in which many have withstood the test of time. This Presto CD release is comprised of his earlier recordings of the Bizet Suites. He recorded them a second time in 1975 for RCA, a recording that I was unable to track down for comparison for this review.
The Carmen Suites are recorded in rather indifferent sound which is unusual for the Philadelphians in my experience. This may have something to do with the acoustic quality of the Broadwood Hotel. Ormandy seems to be having an off day here, as I find he seems to have little feeling for the colour and sweep of Bizet’s great score. For example, in the Aragonaise section I find his tempo for the main theme slightly on the heavy side. By the time he reaches the Habanera of the second suite he seems to be more involved in the proceedings, and he gives a lovely lyrical reading of the Nocturne which was derived from Micaela’s aria. He finally catches fire for the concluding Danse Bohčme; but, really, could this music ever sound dull? Unfortunately there is a tiny but audible slip by the solo trumpet on a climactic note.
With the L’Arlésienne Suites that were recorded five years later we find Ormandy displaying the style and drive for which he was noted. The sound has also greatly improved to that of the earlier Carmen Suites. Ormandy and the orchestra give a fine swagger to the march tempo of the Prelude and are even better when it returns in grander form for the colourful Farandole of the second suite. There is a real feeling of smoldering passion in the Andante molto of the Prelude for the first suite. The better recording quality allows the woodwind section in particular to shine in the Menuet. All things considered, Ormandy’s L’Arlésienne Suites for CBS are among the classic accounts of this wonderful score.
The coupling of Ponchielli’s ever popular Dance of the Hours feels like something of party crasher beside the Spanish flavouring of the rest of the CD, but it does make for an attractive filler piece to the disc so I won’t complain. Ormandy draws some scintillating playing out of his orchestra once they get past a somewhat graceless opening section. The Presto edition has retained all of the original documentation of the 1991 Sony release.