Bizet – Carmen: Prelude & Entr’actes, L’Arlesienne: Orchestral Suite

Bizet - Carmen: Prelude & Entr'actes, L'Arlesienne: Orchestral Suite

Patrick Latimer writes:

Vivid account of Bizet’s beautiful music

Get Bizet

I picked this disc as a (relatively) recent performance of some of Bizet’s greatest show tunes. You get the orchestral music from Carmen without the singing and the plot which is a bit like going straight to dessert. And just like going straight to dessert you can feel a bit empty afterwards but do not worry this disc follows up with equally sumptuous music taken from L’Arlesienne.

If it wasn’t for bad luck

The troubled life of the composer Georges Bizet has been described by better writers than me so I will move on from there and simply observe that despite the reversals Bizet experienced during his short life, his music survives as testament to his talent as a great melodist. The opera Carmen is his most famous legacy. This compact disc from the French Naive label combines the instrumental interlude music from Carmen with three versions of music salvaged from incidental music Bizet composed for an unsuccessful play known as L’Arlesienne concerning the romantic travails of a woman from Arles hence the title.

Vincent with everything

Bizet’s music is supremely accessible and maddeningly catchy. In view of this it is surprising there are not more versions of these works available. What there is often feature Van Gogh landscapes in their artwork as indeed does this offering from Les Musiciens du Louvre.

Local orchestra for local music

Marc Minkowski and Les Musiciens du Louvre are baroque-era specialists so they are out of their familiar area with this mid-Victorian or should I say Second Empire era music. That said they are an orchestra from the South of France playing southern French and Spanish music composed by a Frenchman and the orchestra specialises in operatic music so there are synergies there as they would say in corporate circles.

Rebel in sensible clothing

Marc Minkowski and his orchestra have a bit of a reputation as mavericks at least by the standards of classical musicianship.   They took excerpts from different Rameau opera ballets and stitched them together to make an imaginary symphony. This is fine by me, but liable to induce apoplexy among some sections of the classical music fraternity. In another recording they added their own surprise to Haydn’s “Surprise” Symphony, again not to universal approval.

And yet

With this reputation for classical delinquency I was expecting a more outré rendering of Bizet’s music than that which obtains on most of this disc. This observation is not intended as a criticism. Carmen and the two L’Arlesienne suites are played by a full size orchestra in a big smooth symphonic style on standard instruments. Apart from some faster tempos there is not a huge gulf in performance style between these and the late Claudio Abbado’s outing with the LSO in 1981 also with Van Gogh cover art (still available on Deutsche Grammophon).

Minkowski cuts loose

In addition to the big orchestra’s offerings there is a slimmed down cadre corresponding to the original theatre orchestra of 1872 of 26 players along with a choir performing the actual music from the premiere of the Arlesienne play. This also features instruments outside of the usual classical armoury such as a wooden flute and a tambor drum, (think fife and drums).

And gets results

I think this theatrical version of L’Arlesiene is the USP of this disc. Marc Minkowski has applied his period instrument expertise to get back as close as possible to the original theatre music and the result is powerful and arresting. The feel of the music is much more folk oriented in a good way. At points the music with the choir bears a strange and presumably coincidental resemblance to Morricone’s Spaghetti western music. The otherwise extensive and informative cd booklet notes omit to mention if this part of the recording had a different venue or sound engineering but it has a more intimate and immediate ambience than the recording with full orchestra.

Best of Both Worlds

This disc gives you Bizet’s music in a big silky symphonic style and Bizet’s music in a more raw and intimate theatrical version. I recommend these pieces and performances to classical fans new and old.

Thank you

PL