Notes and Editorial Reviews
The music from L’arlésienne on this disc is not Suite No. 1 (as prepared by Bizet) nor Suite No. 2 (as prepared by Ernest Giuraud), both extracted from the incidental music Bizet wrote to underscore a play by Alphonse Daudet. It is instead an entirely new suite created by conductor Christopher Hogwood. Unlike Bizet and Giuraud who inflated the orchestrations and, in Giuraud’s case interpolated a menuetto from Bizet’s opera La jolie fille de Perth, Hogwood returned to Bizet’s score, extracted most of the key (i.e., better) numbers and arranged his own suite, retaining Bizet’s original orchestrations for a chamber size ensemble. The vocal numbers have either been discarded or performed without voices, and the order of the music is
rearranged. From Bizet’s original 11 pieces at roughly 50 minutes, Hogwood’s suite has nine numbers (four of which are divisions of two of Bizet’s originals) with a total time of approximately 26 minutes. Hogwood’s order of Bizet’s numbers are: 1, 8 (“minuetto”), 7, 9, 4, 8 (“Carillon”), 9 (“Mélodrame”), 10 (final chorus—without the chorus), 11. The results are quite good. Hogwood makes a reasonable and entertaining synthesis of the music. It is nicely played and beautifully recorded. The Bizet/Giuraud suites 1 and 2 have been amply represented, but I am only aware of one recording using Bizet’s original instrumentation, a 1986 Plasson/Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse EMI album of the complete incidental music. That album seems to be out of circulation at the moment, although the Musical Heritage Society has offered it on their label. Hogwood’s suite may be your best opportunity to hear this music as Bizet originally wrote it. I found the Hogwood and Plasson performances to be very similar in tempo and interpretation.
The other half of this album is the incidental music Richard Strauss wrote as part of an ambitious project in collaboration with Hugo von Hoffmansthal titled Der Bürger als Edelmann. It was a curious marriage of Molière’s farce Le bourgeois gentilhomme, a commedia dell’arte play, and a one-act opera Ariadne auf Naxos. The audiences were under-whelmed by this endeavor. To rescue what they could, the opera was detached and expanded into the two-act version we’re familiar with, and the Baroque-inspired incidental music became the suite recorded here. Some of the pieces are based on music by Jean-Baptiste Lully; two items had their genesis as a ballet project, Kythere, which Strauss abandoned before completion; and other numbers are Strauss originals in a neo-Classical style with some whimsical quotations from more recent material spicing the milieu. This suite is not the Strauss of Salome and Elektra, but the mellower Strauss who no longer felt the need to shock audiences with bold dissonance. The musical style is distinct from Bizet’s and makes an unusual pairing of material. Their origins as theatrical incidental music are about the only thing they have in common.
All nine numbers of Le bourgeois gentilhomme are recorded here, and in their traditional order. The performance is very nice, with sprightly tempos, clean textures, and a delicate lightness where appropriate. Unless you have a favorite recording you hold in high esteem, you’ll probably like this one quite a lot. It is, however, Hogwood’s suite of Bizet’s L’arlésienne music that makes this album something out of the ordinary.
David L. Kirk, FANFARE
Works on This Recording
L'arlésienne by Georges Bizet
Basel Chamber Orchestra
Written: 1872; France
Notes: Arranger: Christopher Hogwood.
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