BIZET: Marche funebre in B Minor; Overture in A Minor; Patrie Ov.; Esquisse: Les quatre coins; Petite Suite; Roma Symphony – RTE Nat. Sym. Orch. / Jean-Luc Tingaud – Naxos

BIZET: Marche funebre in B Minor; Overture in A Minor; Patrie Overture, Op. 19; Esquisse: Les quatre coins; Petite Suite; Roma Symphony – RTE National Symphony Orchestra/ Jean-Luc Tingaud – Naxos 8.573344, 78:24 (3/2/15) ****:

Recorded 6-8 January 2014 in the National Concert Hall, Dublin, Ireland, this collection of Bizet’s music introduces many of us to relatively unknown scores by the master who composed Carmen. The early 1867 score for an opera competition sponsored by the Ministry of Fine Arts came from Bizet as a failed submission on the libretto La coupe du roi de Thule by Louis Gallet and Edouard Blau. Bizet retrieved a few fragments from his score, of which the Prelude became the so-called Funeral March in B Minor. The rather menacingly chromatic melodic line has a richly sonorous mix in the low winds and brass. The tale of a treasured gold cup, owned by the King of Thule who tosses the object into the sea, involves complications of inheritance and usurpation, ending on a tragic note.

Bizet’s first orchestral composition, his Overture in A Minor, dates from 1855, but remained unpublished in his lifetime. The music moves through four distinct sections, opening with a melancholy Andante ma non troppo that moves into a flowing motif, rather lyrical. An Allegro vivace ushers in quick sixteenths from the strings, while the brass become more insistently tempestuous. French horns set the cadence for a tender melody, Andante espressivo, in E Major. The final section, Allegro vivace, in A Major carries a decisive “hunt” sensibility.The ease of transition in such transparent scoring might suggest to some the talent of Rossini, Suppe or Offenbach. Tingaud’s reading makes a fine case for this neglected work to be heard more often.

In the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War, Bizet conceived his Patrie Overture (1873), which he dedicated to Jules Massenet. The substantial battery part includes tympani, bass and snare drums, triangle, and cymbals.  The piece transitions through five main key elements: c minor, C Major, F Major and a minor and its major mode. A favorite of past conductors Beecham and Cluytens, the martial and heartily optimistic piece offers the orchestra many spectacular opportunities for bravura playing.  The brass choir has its own episode, sounding much like a transcription from Gabrieli, at least until the snare drum sets in. The funereal section, in a minor, conveys an austere nobility. The ensuing Andantino in triple time enjoys diaphanous scoring from strings, winds, and harps. The rousing, patriotic affect, Moderato maestoso, makes for a potent finale, full force, especially in the superbly produced sound from engineer Damien Chennells.

In 1871 Bizet set a series of twelve pieces for piano duet as a suite, Jeux d’enfants.  Bizet orchestrated some half dozen, selecting five for inclusion in his Op. 22 Petite suite d’orchestre.  The first of the piece, not included, Les quatre coins, is a canonic bit of orchestral color that represents a kind of “musical chairs.” The traditional suite has had its great inscriptions, especially that by Igor Markevitch for DGG. The eleven-minute suite from Tingaud has the requisite pomp, plasticity, and youth to make the music Bizet’s answer to Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. 

The evolution of Bizet’s “Italian” Symphony Roma extends from 1860-1871, beginning with Bizet’s winning of the Prix de Rome. Originally, Bizet wished to label its four movements with the names of major cities: Rome, Venice, Florence, and Naples. In its final version, 1871, for a concert led by Pasdeloup, Bizet kept the title “Carnaval” for the last movement, a tarantella that eventually moves into a jubilant C Major.

The opening of the Andante tranquillo, certainly bears a Wagnerian ring with its four horns. When the pace quickens to an Allegro agitato, the c minor tonality dominates in music not so far the dark, hunting-call melodic contours we hear in Weber. The virtuoso playing by the RTE horn and wind choirs deserves praise. The Allegretto vivace (scherzo) second movement presents a ternary, canonical form in A-flat Major that retains a fleet, energetic vitality. Its airy counter-theme has an airy texture with lilting harp riffs. The Trio section extends the opening, cantering rhythmic pulse over a broadly generous melody. The third movement, Andante molto also asks for Largo espessivo, proffering a haunting melody in F Major that moves from warm strings into the woodwinds. The secondary theme, in C Major, utilizes the 12/8 metrics that provide Beethoven’s thoughts by the brook their impetus in the Pastoral Symphony. The same oboe that lights up the slow movement opens the final tarantella, Allegro vivacissimo, joined by an aroused flute part. Four tunes collaborate for this spirited dance, the last of which derives from the slow movement secondary theme. The alternately martial and fleet character of the (Mendelssohn-like) dance more than relates to La Patrie, which would follow in two years.

—Gary Lemco

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