BIZET: L'Arlesienne Suites / Carmen Suites (Anthony Bramall/ Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.550061)
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Georges Bizet (1838 - 1875)
Suite No.1 br>
The French composer Georges Bizet wasborn in 1838, the child of musical parents, who did a great deal to encouragehis interest in music, distracting him from other pursuits by hiding books fromhim. In 1848 he entered the Conservatoire in Paris, where he became a pupil ofthe composer Gounod, while distinguishing himself as a pianist under Marmontel.
In 1857 Bizet won the Prix de Rome, theprize awarded to those young composers, painters and writers able to pass therigorous scrutiny of the examining committee, and in accordance with the termsof the award was able to study in Rome. His return to Paris in 1860 was tobring disappointment. He had some success with earlier operas, but it wasCarmen, a work that was enjoying its first run in Paris at the time of hisdeath, that in the end had the profoundest effect on the public, arousing equalmeasures of enthusiasm and hostility.
(The Girl from Arles) was the result of a collaboration in 1872 between Bizetand the writer Alphonse Daudet, an attempt to create again the form ofmelodrama, a combination of music and theatre. For this purpose Daudet chose totreat the story of the vain love and suicide of a young relative of theProvencal poet Mistral. Frederi, the lover, is infatuated with the girl fromArles, who is never seen on stage, but finds that she is the mistress of ascoundrel, Mitifio. His mother persuades him to marry Vivette, a girl who haslong loved him, but on the eve of his wedding Frederi meets Mitifio, remembershis old love and kills himself.
In the theatre L'Arlesienne wasunsuccessful, partly because the audience expected a straight play, and tookexception to music that some labelled Wagnerian. From the incidental musicBizet drew a suite (Suite No. 1), rewriting and rescoring the pieces for alarger orchestra than his original band of 25 players. The Prelude andAdagietto, the latter originally for string quartet, are simplyre-orchestrated, while other changes were made in the Minuet, originally anintermezzo, and to the Carillon, to which 'he added a middle section drawn fromelsewhere in the original score. The suite won immediate success in the concerthall. The second suite was arranged by Bizet's friend Ernest Guiraud after thecomposer's death.
Les dragons de Alcala
Marche du toreador
Marches des contrabandiers
It is difficult for us to understand therelative failure of the opera Carmen, when it was first staged in Parisin 1875. Bizet had enjoyed some intermittent success in the theatre, but it wasabove all with Prosper Merimee's novel that he was to find a subject fullysuited to his abilities.
Thestory of the opera shocked audiences. It dealt with the love affair between thefactory-girl Carmen and the toreador Escamillo, her flirtation with Don Jose, acorporal of the guard, and her murder by the jealous soldier, whose life shehas ruined and corrupted.
SuiteNo.1 opens with the Prelude to the first act, which sets the Spanish atmosphereof the piece, includes strains of the Toreador's Song, and an ominous theme ofFate, portending the murder that is to come. The Aragonaise is based onthe Spanish jota and is followed by the Intermezzo that serves as a prelude tothe third act, where Carmen and her gypsy smuggler companions march to theirmountain encampment. It was in the Seguidilla that Carmen had first seduced DonJose, to secure her release from arrest on a charge of wounding a fellow-workerin the factory. The Dragoons of Alcala is the marching-song of DonJose's regiment, which love for Carmen has induced him to desert. TheToreador's Song is probably the best known of all the melodies in the opera,recurring to mark the appearance of Escamillo, Carmen's toreador lover.
SuiteNo.2 opens with the Marche des contrabandiers, the march of Carmen'sgypsy smuggler companions, and continues with the famous Habanera, thesong with which Carmen is first heard, the centre of male attention, asshe comes out of the cigarette-factory. There is a night scene and music forDon Jose's regiment to mount guard. The suite ends with a gypsy dance.
The Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra
The Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra,established as a professional orchestra in Bratislava (formerly Pressburg) in1949, has won itself a considerable reputation during its relatively shortexistence.
Slovakia, which, with Bohemia andMoravia, became the Republic of of Czechoslovakia in 1918, was the source of agreat deal of music during the years of the Habsburg Empire. This musicallyfertile region has been influenced by Viennese, Hungarian and Bohemian musicand it is these influences that have given the Slovak Philharmonic, one ofEurope's finest orchestras, its unique character. On its many internationaltours, and at festivals throughout Europe, the orchestra has been praised forits great musicality and it has been compared by enthusiastic critics with suchworld-class orchestras as the Vienna Philharmonic. The orchestra benefitedconsiderably from the work of its distinguished conductors. These includedVaclav Talish (1949 -1952), Ludovit Rajter and Ladislav Slovak. The Czechconductor Libor Pesek was appointed resident conductor in 1981, and the presentPrincipal Conductor is the Slovak musician Bystrik Rezucha. Zdenek Kosler hasalso had a long and distinguished association with the orchestra and hasconducted many of its most successful recordings, among them the completesymphonies of Dvořak.
During the years of its professionalexistence the Slovak Philharmonic has worked under the direction of many of themost distinguished conductors from abroad, from Eugen Goossens and MalcolmSargent to Claudio Abbado, Antal Dorati and Riccardo Muti.
The orchestra has undertaken many toursabroad, for example to Germany and Japan and has made a large number of recordingsfor the Czech Opus label, for Supraphon, for Hungaroton and, in recent years,for the Marco Polo label.
These recordings have brought theorchestra a growing international reputation and praise from the critics ofleading international publications.
Anthony Bramall was born in London in1957 and spent five years as a chorister at Westminster Abbey, beforecontinuing his musical education at the Purcell School and at the GuildhallSchool of Music and Drama. He attended courses in conducting under Vilem Tauskyand had varied experience as a conductor in Britain, working with NorthernIreland Opera, Phoenix Opera and Spectrum Opera, becoming, in 1981, Assistantto the General Music Director in the Municipal Theatre in Pforzheim. In 1984 hewon a special prize in the Hans Swarowsky Conducting Competition and thefollowing year was guest conductor with the South German Chamber Orchestra.
Since 1985 he has been Director of Music at the Municipal Theatre in Augsburg.