From the very opening of Bizet’s wonderful Symphony in C it is clear that the Symphonic Hall in Aarhus is an ideal venue acoustically. The recording itself is exceptionally realistic, definition is precise and the instruments of the orchestra have true naturalness of timbre; additionally there is wide dynamic range.
This splendid sound enhances Marc Soustrot’s vital interpretations. His realisation of the Symphony presents the music as a sort of advanced Classical composition and his reading provides lively tempos, taut rhythms and a great deal of sparkle. The first movement is so joyful and enlivening that its conclusion seems to be reached in no time. One explanation for this is the unexpected decision to omit the exposition repeat. The Adagio is beautifully played with a lovely oboe solo. The Scherzo is full of life but without any sense of hurry. There are interesting characteristics here including an intriguing tendency to spread chords warmly rather than hitting them hard, but because of the admirably strong rhythm this does not subdue the music’s vigour. The optimistic Finale, though eager and dashing by nature, also has delicate moments – graciously attended to here.
The remainder of the disc is attractively programmed. The familiar music from Carmen is eloquent and Soustrot’s understanding of dance-rhythm in the ‘Aragonaise’ is a delight. I suppose that Bizet’s music for the opera house or the theatre is so familiar that it is easy to forget that here is a wealth of highly inventive music: Soustrot’s conducting gives it renewed freshness.
The two Suites taken from Bizet’s music for Alphonse Daudet’s play L’Arlésienne can together be regarded as a tuneful eight-movement divertimento. The first four movements were orchestrated by Bizet for concert use but the four of Suite 2 were arranged and orchestrated after the composer’s death by Ernest Guiraud. The scoring is similar – Guiraud even retains Bizet’s adventurous idea of including a saxophone. This is imaginative orchestration with flute and harp sounding particularly graceful at the start of the ‘Minuet’. The ‘Farandole’ rounds off the eight episodes ideally since the basic theme restates the ‘Prélude’ before combining it with a countermelody underpinned excitingly by a tambourin provençal. Rhythm is immaculate in this exuberant piece, and it is worth mentioning that not only do the exceptionally well-recorded timpani contribute with accuracy throughout but they are played with imagination.
I found all these performances exhilarating and there is a flair in Symphony that I have encountered only rarely. It is unfortunate that we are not vouchsafed the outer-movement repeats – at Soustrot’s speeds it would have given us six further minutes of music and still fitted the disc. Nevertheless, this is an outstanding production both interpretatively and sonically.