Bizet's Carmen was misunderstood at its premiere in 1875. The Opera-Comique was a place where respectable families could be entertained, and where virginal daughters could be introduced to blameless sons with marriage in mind. No one expected to see uncouth gypsies, dirty smugglers and vulgar cigarette girls on its stage, let alone unvarnished human passions and murder, as Bizet so vividly portrayed them in Carmen!
This 2CD set brings together Ansermet's complete Bizet stereo recordings for Decca, are good-natured and piquant without being showy for showiness's sake. The 'rural' element of so much of the music in the Bizet suites is emphasised and in L'Arlesienne, Ansermet ensures that the Provence sun and starlight shine clearly through the music's textures. Likewise, his approached to the early Symphony is summery and there is an unpressured willingness to give the symphony space in which to breathe. Nothing is forced, and melodies are allowed to come into happy bloom.
Joaquin Turina was born in Seville, the city in which most of Carmen is set, so he could hardly avoid composing 'Spanish music'. Turina's Danzas fantasticas are more abstract and less stereotypical than some of the other Spanish repertory Ansermet recorded, but they require no less of a visceral response. Ansermet's languid, sensual, intoxicating, and sometimes even sinister reading of this score, brilliantly captured by Decca's engineering team, remains a standard by which other recordings should be judged.