Bizet: Symphony in C

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COMPOSERS: Bizet
LABELS: Virgin
WORKS: Symphony in C; Jeux d’enfants; Roma, Suite for Orchestra No. 3
PERFORMER: Orchestre de Paris/Paavo Järvi
CATALOGUE NO: 628 6130

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 Bizet’s Roma is either concert suite, suite, symphony or a symphonic fantasy, depending on which date you refer to. Originally completed in 1866 as a symphony in four movements, Bizet subsequently revised the work over the next 11 years without finding a final form which satisfied him; it was published under its present title five years after his death.

Introducing the Eulenburg miniature score, Felix Aprahamian noted that ‘whatever its deficiencies, there is no doubt that Roma was a work close to Bizet’s heart’, yet there tend to be moments when the inspiration sags and we’re reminded of the composer’s stated preference for writing stage works rather than concert ones. It is to Paavo Järvi’s credit that these moments do not obtrude, largely because of the energy and momentum he generates. 

This is a feature also of the early C major Symphony, where the finale fairly fizzes along, taking in light and shade along the way. But if this energy has a down side, it’s in Järvi’s slightly prosaic way with the more tender moments, such as the ‘Berceuse’ and ‘Duo’ in the suite from Jeux d’enfants. Here a modicum of operatic breathing would have humanised these rather routine accounts, not helped by the violins’ unyielding tone.

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This is more noticeable still in the loud tuttis, where the overall sound is often quite aggressive. A pity, too, that in the second movement of the early Symphony the wonderful oboe tune, almost the first inkling we get of Bizet’s supreme melodic gifts, should be undermined by the violas’ uncertainty over tempo. You can almost hear the oboist thinking ‘Heavens! That fast, really?’ The answer turns out to be ‘No, just a momentary aberration’. But it’s an uncomfortable moment. Roger Nichols