ERNESTO HALFFTER: Carmen (film score) – Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra/ Mark Fitz-Gerald – Naxos 8.572260, 66:58 ****:
The Mérmimée story of the gypsy femme fatale engendered a remarkable number of Carmen films – mostly made during the silent era, when it was a big thing to do silent features based on various operas, strange as it seems. This score now takes its place as one of the great impressionistic Spanish masterpieces of the era, created and performed by an orchestra to accompany a 1926 production of Carmen by Jacques Feyder.
Halffter, who lived until 1989, was a disciple of Falla and also studied with both Ravel and Stravinsky. There are 17 cues from the score here, mostly quite short except for two running 11 and 12 minutes length. The music is more tragic-sounding and serious than Bizet’s for his opera, but stands almost its equal as far as musical quality. This is its premiere recording and the first time any performance of the music has realized the composer’s full intentions. The strong emotions of the story, which Bizet communicated very well in his opera, are here given even more powerful strength in some ways, using entirely instrumental means. Some stills from the silent film in the booklet elicit an interest in seeing the actual film. Since most people have some familiarity with Bizet’s opera, it makes it easier following along with the music and the basic story. Perhaps someone will issue it on a DVD married to this excellent recorded performance, as has been done with several silent-era scores. (Some have even featured the original silent-era score plus an option for a new version created especially for the DVD reissue.)
— John Suinier