Bizet: L'Arlesienne, incidental music (CD review)
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.
William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer
Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.
The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.