Various Artists

French Classics: Bizet, Berlioz, Debussy

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Casual classical listeners and beginners may derive some new knowledge of French music from hearing this volume in Berlin Classics' Basics series, but once it has served its purpose as an introduction, this sampler should be replaced with better sounding and more complete recordings. While it is helpful to have a CD that gives a taste of music by Georges Bizet, Hector Berlioz, Claude Debussy, Francis Poulenc, Darius Milhaud, and Maurice Ravel, the tracks are in most cases just short movements that only tantalize, not satisfy. Hearing selections from Bizet's Carmen and L'Arlésienne may inspire the adventurous to move onto the full works, and the slow movements from Poulenc's Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra and Ravel's Piano Concerto in G major will certainly charm listeners into seeking out full performances. But there's little pleasure to be had in hearing only "Ein Bal" from Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique or the "Braziliera" from Milhaud's Scaramouche, which don't really stand well apart from the larger pieces. Debussy's Prélude à l'après midi d'un faune is possibly the only track that is completely fulfilling, and the attractive performance by the Dresden Staatskapelle, under Otmar Suitner, makes it the highpoint of the disc. The sound of these recordings is generally fine, though the mix of analog and digital sources, drawn from Edel Classics' backlist, is uneven and fairly typical for a budget compilation.

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