Bizet: L'Arlesienne, incidental music (CD review)

Michel Plasson, Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse. EMI Classics 0946 3 55671 2.

When French composer Georges Bizet (1838-1875) wrote his incidental music to Andre Daudet's play L'Arlesienne (The Girl from Arles) in 1872, the public and critics thought it distracted from the rest of the production. The fact is, it was probably better than the drama and simply upstaged it. Neither the play nor the complete incidental music have fared well ever since in their original form. But the sly Bizet recognized a good thing when he heard it and extracted two suites of music from his work, which have, of course, gone on to become classic warhorses that many of us prize in our collections.

Anyway, in 1982 Michel Plasson recorded the complete incidental music for EMI, pretty much as Bizet first intended it, and EMI reissued it at budget price a few years ago. It is a bargain for those looking for something different from the usual suites. Plasson's performance is delicate and nuanced, filled with sweetness and passion in equal amounts, but it's characterized mostly by the suaveness of Plasson's direction. Oh, you'll recognize all the familiar bits, to be sure, but it's the additional twenty minutes or so that are fascinating. It's also interesting, if not entirely better, to hear the music in its initial dramatic order rather than in the order of the suites.

EMI's sound is fine, too, smooth and spacious, with plenty of bloom and ambient air. However, and here's the rub, when you compare it as I did to Paul Paray's 1956 recording of the suites for Mercury, you find the old Mercury sounding much firmer, much more transparent, and much more authoritative all the way around. Think of that: A recording thirty years older sounding thirty years better than the newer one. Nevertheless, I wouldn't let that deter one from listening to the Passon disc, especially at its super-cheap cost.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa