Fine Sound: Bizetz: Orchestral Works Vol. I
The MHS Review 410, VOL. 12, NO.14• 1988
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David M. Greene
At this writing, this offering, according to the ASV chrome digital cassette that I just auditioned ("Don't call us; we'll call you!"), is vol. 1 of Bizet's orchestral work. On the face of it, at least to the innocent, that's a promising premise (or a premising promise), though a good many vol. ls have come past this desk unfollowed by any subsequent vols., even from Tennessee. But supposing there are more, what have we here, and what might we expect?
You must remember, of course, that Bizet was cut off in his prime. At least one assumes it was his prime: he had not concluded his 37th year. (Long plagued by recurrent abscesses of the mouth and throat and by rheumatic symptoms, he went for a swim in the Seine at his summer home in Bougivil, became very ill, and died a few nights later. No, Rollo, he did not die insane: you weren't paying attention!) But Schubert and Mozart both died even younger, and they spent their days turning out more music than most composers manage in their allotted threescore and ten.
You must also remember that Bizet was French. Before the last quarter of the 19th century, the French, except for weirdos like Berlioz, had little use for orchestral music, opera being where the fun and the francs were. But Bizet was a follower, friend, and acolyte of Gounod, who had had the temerity to write symphonies and quartets. So the chances for a series of Bizet orchestral records would appear excellent.
But when one consults the Bizet worklist under that head, one finds only ten orchestral pieces. Of these, furthermore, one (a symphony) was destroyed, and another (an overture) has vanished. What is left includes an unnamed overture, the C major Symphony, a scherzo and funeral march, another funeral march, the so-called symphony Roma, the overture Patrie a suite orchestrated from the Jeux d'enfants for piano four hands, and a set of pieces from the music for Daudet's play L'arlesienne.
And which of these are included in vol. l? Well, there's Patrie, of which more in a moment. Then there's the prelude to Les pecheurs de perles. And there are two suites from Carmen. Period. Full stop. Fin!
Aha! So we are to include selections from the operas. A fertile field! The work-list names 26! But let us not ignore the fine print. Of these a handful are extant solely in the form of sketches; others were either jettisoned, or existed only in the composer's head. Of the eight that remain, two were never orchestrated and one is unfinished. Apart from the material noted above, that leaves the overture to Djamileh and the ballet music from La Jolie fille de Perth.
And so, at last, to the matter at hand. Patrie (Fatherland) is not well known; in fact, to my surprise, I'd never heard it before. It was commissioned by the conductor Pasdeloup while Bizet was at work on Carmen, and apparently had something to do with the never-ending agonies of Poland. Its main theme was a march from one of the aborted operas. Bizet's biographer Mina Curtiss says it is "of the genre of Tchaikovsky's 1812," and may have influenced that work--i.e. there's lots of percussion and strutting. Actually it was very popular at first, which tells one something about popular taste.
The Pearl Fishers' prelude (41 bars) is too short to warrant discussion. That leaves the Carmen suites. Since Bizet died before the opera got a foothold, he never wrote a Carmen suite, though each of the four acts has a prelude. To these, various conductors have made various additions; Batiz includes such arias as the habanera, the seguidilla, the Gypsy dance, the toreador song, and Michaela's musings ("Nocturne!"), the voice parts given to various instruments. Batiz seems to want to emphasize the ''vulgarity'' of the music (i.e. its pop element) and appears to have borrowed his wind players from a mariachi. Fine sound. Recommended to hift buffs, Batiz fans, compulsive Bizet collectors, and patriotic Mexicans.
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