Bizet Te Deum
This is a disc guaranteed to delight anyone who has ever responded to the youthful sparkle of Bizet’s Symphony in C. Like the Symphony, the dramatic cantata Clovis et Clotilde and the ambitious Te Deum date from the composer’s teenage years. The cantata was Bizet’s entry to the Prix de Rome in 1857, which he won, while the Te Deum was written during the same period for the same judges. Both works have remained in oblivion – quite undeservedly, as these outstanding performances bear witness. Passages in the cantata reflect the music of his teacher, Gounod, but more often Bizet’s own distinctive style is reflected in the abundant lyricism. Plainly, even in his teens, Bizet had a fully developed talent.
The cantata tells the story of the conversion to Christianity of the Frankish King Clovis by his wife, Clotilde. It divides neatly into two halves, for Clovis, a tenor role brilliantly and freshly sung by Philippe Do, emerges only halfway through. Until then Clotilde, brightly sung by Katarina Jovanovic, takes pride of place along with her father, Rémy, sung by Mark Schnaible. There are many moments to cherish, notably Clotilde’s prayer, starting on an exquisitely delicate pianissimo. Otherwise Jovanovic is fearless in tackling exposed top notes cleanly and precisely. The tenor, Philippe Do, has no separate aria, although the central duet between Clovis and Clotilde culminates in a substantial solo for him. Do’s diction is excellent (fortunate when the notes do not contain any texts, though otherwise they are ideally informative).
The Te Deum makes an ideal coupling. It was not published until 1971, and it seems that Bizet was so discouraged at the lukewarm reception it received from the Prix de Rome judges that he decided not to attempt any more religious music. After a grand choral opening, the tenor soloist enters with the first of his powerful solos. Though the Te Deum ends with the rather downbeat “Let me never be confounded”, Bizet ignores that sentiment in a triumphant close. Altogether another highly enjoyable piece, adding to the attractions of a disc beautifully recorded in clean, well-balanced sound – in every way a delightful discovery.