BIZET: L’Arlésienne Suite No. 1; Suite No. 2; FAURE: Masques et Bergamasques; GOUNOD: Faust – Ballet Music – Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/ Kazuki Yamada – PentaTone multichannel SACD PTC 5186 358, 69:56 (Distr. by Naxos) [11/19/13] ****1/2:
This is the first of what will eventually be a series of three SACDs devoted to ballet, theater and dance music. The Suisse Romande Orchestra, familiar to most record collectors, has a long-standing reputation for its performances of French music.
Yamada, who began as a choral director, may be a new conductor to many but he is very talented and brings these scores to life. The music might be considered as associated with Sir Thomas Beecham, who was England’s champion of all things French. Although Yamada doesn’t come up to Beecham’s level of frothy and carefree demeanor, he works closely with musicians who are far better than those who were in Ernest Ansermet’s ensemble.
Bizet composed the L’Arlésienne incidental music originally for an 1872 play by Alphonse Daudet. The play’s characters were in a bad mental state in an oppressive world, and Bizet created 27 cues for the stage presentation, which was not a success. But he was aware this was great music and orchestrated some of it as a suite for a regular symphony orchestra—much better than the 26 musicians he was limited to in the pit. Later, after Bizet’s death, Ernest Guiraud arranged a second suite. Both suites have four movements and are above the same length. The first opens with music from the Overture and the second suite uses the incidental music which preceded the second act of the play. The finale in Guiraud’s suite is based on a folk tune from Provence, and it’s melody is combined with the march with which Bizet opened his suite.
Faure was involved in the theatrical domain as well as writing songs and piano works. In Masques et Bergamasques he hoped to revive the divertissement comique which was popular at the royal court of France in the 17th and 18th centuries. The stage work was also supposed to evoke the pastoral atmosphere of Watteau’s paintings of the period. The four-movement suite originally ended with a fifth movement which was the composer’s famous Pavane, but that was later dropped.
Gounod’s Faust is one of the best-loved French operas. However, the Opéra de Paris rejected the work originally, considering it insufficiently attractive. The ballet music is in seven short sections of basically simple material. Gounod’s harmonies and orchestration portrayed a sensuality that attracted those who had enjoyed the Bacchanal section of the Paris version of Wagner’s Tannhäuser. Yamada may not be the greatest specialist in the French orchestral repertory, but this is a most praiseworthy album, and in demonstration-quality hi-res surround.