Bizet/Serebrier Carmen Symphony
As he explains in a lively booklet-note, José Serebrier has been dissatisfied for years with the conventional orchestral suites drawn from Carmen, not just on points of orchestration but on the random order of their movements. His new Carmen Symphony therefore follows the plot in a sequence of 11 movements, and returns to Act 2’s Gypsy Dance for a substantial finale – a fair compromise. So following the opening Prelude is a movement called ‘The Cavalry’, in effect the mustering scene without the chorus of children, followed by Carmen’s Habañera and Seguidilla leading to the ‘Fugato’, the quarrel music taken from the end of Act 1. The movement labelled simply Andante cantabile is Carmen’s central solo from the Card Scene, and the penultimate ‘Wedding’ movement, is taken very effectively from the opening scene of Act 4.
Serebrier certainly establishes the merit of a coherent sequence. He also largely retains Bizet’s original orchestration, and makes a strong case for his choice of instruments for voice parts. The results, however, are mixed: although the Card Scene solo works very well with a saxophone, slinky and seductive and rather sinister, the chopped-up phrasing of the Habañera sounds short-winded. The oboe works well for Carmen’s voice in the Seguidilla, intermittently so elsewhere. The trombone may seem a logical choice for Escamillo in the Toreador’s Song, set in the right register, but the result rather suggests a bullfighter not quite sober. The Gypsy Dance effectively combines all the solo instruments in a whirling climax.
When Bizet has been so fully respected in the main instrumentation, any reservations are incidental, for Serebrier draws a compelling performance from the Barcelona orchestra with outstanding wind and brass playing, even if, as recorded, the strings are thin-sounding at times. The two L’Arlésienne suites, crisply done, make an apt and generous coupling, all very well recorded.