familiar, augmented, and just plain odd: the ubiquitous Symphony in C, the
complete Jeux d'enfants with
orchestrations by the American Hershey Kay and the Australian Roy Douglas, and
Felix Weingartner's orchestration of Bizet's most ambitious piano
composition. Are you ready to rumble?
As hard as it might be to believe, the ever-popular Symphony in C was a student composition that the 17-year-old Bizet shelved as a failure and soon forgot about. The symphony had to wait 80 years for conductor Felix Weringartner to discover it, but since then it has not wanted for exposure. Along with Berlioz' Symphonie Fantastique and Franck's Symphony in D minor, it's probably the most often performed and recorded symphonic work in the entire French repertory. And that means there's lots of competition for this new version by Martin West. In his even-tempered first movement, I missed the life-affirming swagger of Charles Munch, the élan of Jean Martinon, the athleticism of Leonard Bernstein, the puckish charm of Thomas Beecham. Taken at slower than usual tempos, the adagio is more successful: luminous and graceful with delicate solo work from the winds. Though also underpowered, the scherzo and finale at least have well-sprung rhythms: it's easy to understand why choreographers like Georges Balanchine have been so attracted to this music.
began its life as a suite for piano, four hands. Later Bizet orchestrated five
of its twelve sections, and it's in that arrangement that the work has been
performed and recorded by many conductors. In this new recording, those five
sections have been complemented by the Kay and Douglas orchestrations to give us
a kind of hybrid version of the complete work that's often performed as a full
ballet. Of course, both Hershey Kay and Roy Douglas worked as arrangers for
dance companies, and their contributions here are showy, witty, and very
danceable. Bizet might well have considered the Variations
Chromatiques his most fully realized composition for piano, but in
Weingartner's orchestration, it's a bombastic piece that seems overlong at
fourteen minutes. But Bizet collectors please take note: this marks its first
(and probably its last) appearance on CD.
No company produces more realistic orchestral sound than Reference Recordings. The demonstration-quality sound here is typical: the soundstage is wide and deep; the upper register finely detailed, but warm and glowing; the bass rich and vivid. As most audiophiles already know, there's nothing clinical or gimmicky about Reference recordings; the orchestra sounds completely natural. Close your eyes, and you're front row center.
So this is pretty
much a mixed bag, if ever there was one. If your interest here is the Symphony,
I'd look elsewhere. But ballet lovers should feel very much at home in this
repertory. And I bet the sensational sound will only add to their pleasure.