BIZET Carmen Suites. L'Arlésienne Suites
What could be more appropriate than a Spanish orchestra and conductor to add local colour to Ernest Guiraud’s suites arranged from Bizet’s Carmen? And if Barcelona isn’t quite Seville, it should matter little enough. Pablo González and the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra offer both Carmen suites, along with the two suites drawn from the incidental music to Alphonse Daudet’s play L’Arlésienne on this well-filled Naxos disc.
Any newcomer has to measure up to my benchmark for this music, that by Charles Dutoit and the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, which is done with great panache. Might the Barcelonans offer an earthier account? Well, partly. The Spanish bassoon is a good deal punchier in the ‘Dragons d’Alcala’ interlude and the Naxos recording is beefier than its Decca counterpart (at the expense of extra woodwind clarity). González sets a flowing tempo for the Nocturne (Micaëla’s Act 3 aria ‘Je dis que rien ne m’épouvante’) but elsewhere is a touch slower than Dutoit. The Barcelona oboe offers smooth legato in the opening phrases of the Séguedille, whereas Dutoit’s oboe is far more coquettish. In short, the Barcelona performances are attractive without being anything out of the ordinary.
Ironically, González and his orchestra are more stylish – and certainly more nimble – in the Provençal setting of L’Arlésienne. The First Suite’s Menuet zings along and the Carillon goes with a tremendous swing. Although the Barcelona principal flute can’t quite match Timothy Hutchins’s liquid fluidity in Montreal, these are persuasive performances, capped by an infectious Farandole to close.