Bizet • Fauré • Gounod

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COMPOSERS: Bizet,Faure,Gounod
LABELS: PentaTone
ALBUM TITLE: Bizet • Fauré • Gounod
WORKS: Bizet: L’Arlésienne Suites Nos 1 & 2; Fauré: Masques et bergamasques; Gounod: Faust Ballet Music
PERFORMER: Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Kazuki Yamada
CATALOGUE NO: PTC 5186 358

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Depressed by the gloomy plot, and bewildered because ‘the girl from Arles’ never actually appears on stage, the first audiences of the 1872  Daudet/Bizet collaboration L’Arlésienne gave it the cold shoulder. Or was the music just too good, taking attention away from the story?

Kazuki Yamada’s interpretation suggests this was a possibility: from delightful miniatures like the First Suite’s ‘Minuetto’, encored at the first concert performance, to the searing intensity of the following ‘Adagietto’, he draws playing both exquisite and passionate from his orchestra. If the colours of Fauré’s score are very different, they nonetheless tread the same fine line between chamber music economy and the lure of the sensual.

Sensuality is the key ingredient in Gounod’s ballet music for Faust, as Mephistopheles conjures up a bevy of historical lovelies for Faust’s delectation (and destruction). ‘The style’, wrote James Harding in his Gounod biography ‘has an airy grace tinged with melancholy.’ Grace abounds in this performance, together with moments of fragility, as in the elegant phrasing of the ‘Adagio’, but bravado has its say too, most notably in the ‘Variations de Cléopâtre’, enlivened by tasteful touches of rubato, and in the final, dangerous-sounding ‘Danse de Phryné’, in which Faust’s fate is seemingly foretold. The recording, made in the generous but never overwhelming acoustic of the Victoria Hall, Geneva, is both sensual and finely balanced.

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Roger Nichols