Those who love the music of Georges Bizet have only two regrets: first, that the composer died too young to have reached full maturity and second, that he left so little truly great music behind. Three years before his death at 37, Bizet was commissioned to write the incidental music to Alphonse Daudet's play L'Arlésienne. Wildly unpopular, the play closed after 21 performances, but Bizet, realizing the score's worth, arranged four pieces from it as a suite for full orchestra -- and achieved a popular hit that paved the way for his masterpiece Carmen. But while the suite remains extremely well-known, the remainder of the music is all but unknown except to the most dedicated Bizet fan. This 1985 performance by Michel Plasson leading the Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse and the Orféon Donostiarra in the complete L'Arlésienne incidental music was the work's first digital recording, and it still sounds beautiful in this 2006 remastering: deep, smooth, brilliantly colorful, and very immediate.
Better yet, it was a great performance. At the time, Plasson and the Toulouse orchestra were in the midst of recording vast swathes of the French late-Romantic orchestral repertoire, and in the midst of immensely serious symphonies by d'Indy, Magnard, and Ropartz, it must have been a balm and a joy for them to record Bizet's endlessly fresh score. Their performance ideally catches the work's spirit of reckless youth in playing of eager energy and keen enjoyment. But that doesn't mean the music's darker strains aren't given their full weight: the 11-minute Finale is as dark as the darkest French romantic music. While not the cogent and compelling musical theater experience that Carmen is, L'Arlésienne is still first-rate Bizet and anyone who only knows the suite will surely enjoy the complete incidental music. ~ James Leonard, Rovi