Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Bizet: Symphony No. 1; L'Arlésienne Suites Nos. 1 & 2

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Almost three decades separate these recordings of Bizet favorites; yet through fastidious engineering and careful preservation of the original masters, there are no annoying audio discrepancies between Charles Münch's 1963 analog recording of the Symphony in C major, and Charles Gerhardt's 1990 digital rendition of the L'Arlésienne Suites Nos. 1 and 2. Münch's clear-headed interpretation and meticulous conducting of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra make Bizet's youthful symphony quite clean and precise, and fairly exciting for its headlong speed and exuberance in the fast movements. Somewhat disappointingly, Gerhardt's readings of the L'Arlésienne Suites are more or less routine, with great sound and color, but lacking in immediacy and urgency. Without a dramatic impetus behind these overly familiar incidental pieces -- composed for Alphonse Daudet's stage play -- Bizet's music tends to drag on tediously and sound too much like staid set pieces. Gerhardt elicits some lovely sonorities from the RPO, and is particularly good with drawing out the saxophone and the woodwinds in lyrical sections; but there is little feeling of drive or theatricality to hold the listener's attention. So these decent performances may be adequate for filling a gap in a beginner's library, but they are not especially different than many other workaday versions.

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