Bizet: L’Arlésienne – incidental music; orchestral suites Nos 1 & 2; Carmen – Prélude & Entractes.

WORKS: L’Arlésienne – incidental music; orchestral suites Nos 1 & 2; Carmen – Prélude & Entractes.
PERFORMER: Choeur de L’Opéra; Les Musiciens du Louvre, Grenoble/Marc Minkowski
It is, I think, a truth generally acknowledged that Bizet’s music for Daudet’s play L’Arlesienne is nothing short of miraculous. But presenting it outside the drama for which it was written has always posed a problem. Minkowski has got the best of many worlds by offering the two suites scored for larger forces by Bizet himself shortly after the 1872 premiere and by Guiraud seven years later, and by giving us in between eight movements from the original incidental music, scored for a small orchestra of 26 players. The whole is prefaced by the overture and three interludes from Carmen. I find it hard to know what to praise most, the vivid, taut rhythms of the various marches and dances, often enlivened by a dash of almost coarse rusiticity the sensuous orchestral colours of the quieter moments, or the passion that suddenly erupts , seemingly from nowhere, in the L’Arlesienne overture. Tempos are frequently on the brisk side, the exception being Minkowsi observing Bizet’s veru slow tempo (crotchet = 40) for the Adagietto, which turns this moment into one of the deepest emotion. No wonder Mahler had it in mind when composing the similarly named movement of his Fifth Symphony! This disc has already given me more pleasure than any other arrival over the last 12 months, distracting me from any number of supposedly more [important’ tasks, An d as if that weren’t enough, the enclosing booklet, containing pictures by Van Gogh and Gaughuin, is a model of such things – no plastic hinges, praise be…