Customer Reviews for

Ernesto Halffter: Carmen

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  • Posted April 16, 2011

    World premiere recording--reviving the 1926 Carmen film score

    The World Premiere recording of Ernesto Halffter's Carmen, presented by the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, follows the format of Jacques Feyder's 1926 silent film. The orchestra stages the melodies skillfully, transporting the listener to observe the Spanish country locales, the gypsy camp, Don Jose's struggling loyalties, Carmen's powerful influence, the military presence, and the spectacle of the bullfight. In the many re-tellings and recordings of the Carmen legend, the plot has varied with the composer/storyteller. As of 2011, a few versions have survived and the public is well-acquainted with them; the others have faded into disuse. This recording seeks to bring the music by Halffter back into focus as one of the memorable Carmen portrayals. The quality of the orchestra is superlative, leading the audience on to the next scene, the next, and the next. The themes are vibrant and evocative of the Spanish traditions and characters. When hearing any large work, the listener makes a mental connection between the audible and the intellectual; that is, the sound at the moment, and the format (symphony, opera, play, passion, cantata). When that connection is made, the work becomes meaningful for the audience. Even though a work may not fit an exact, traditional prescription for that genre, there is a mental association or setting. That is what makes "great" music a lasting presence, rather than noise passing through sensory awareness. This recording revives the neglected achievement of Ernesto Halffter. Writer Graham Wade reminds us that this intense presentation was composed by the 21-year-old winner of the 1925 National Prize for Composition, at the beginning of a most productive career. The music is pleasant and recorded with precise clarity, with unquestioned accuracy and expression. The Wade explanations of the tracks are very helpful, but the print is so tiny as to warrant a magnifying glass. Yes, it is appealing, and provides a decidedly Spanish flavor. This lovely composition has all the potential to become a more prominent part of the numerous treatments of the Carmen story, and this recording would add to the value of a collection.

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  • Posted April 15, 2011

    A Silent Carmen?

    From the outset it should be noted that there is absolutely no connection here to Bizet's opera other than the mutual novella source of the narrative. This is a completely original score commissioned by Jacques Feyder, the director of this 1926 French silent film. The composer Ernesto Halffter was a protégé of his countryman, the great Manuel de Falla. The finished product displays a depth of emotion and structural mastery all the more remarkable considering that the composer was a mere 21 years old at the time. There are a total of 17 distinct cues, nearly 67 minutes. It's a certainty that the score adds immeasurably to the experience when performed in conjunction with the film. On its own, the music holds up nicely. Halffter's imaginative harmonic, rhythmic and lyrical ideas grasp and maintain one's interest sans any visuals. The scoring, particularly the highly evocative wind writing and intricate manipulation of string colors and textures, denotes an extraordinary confidence at work. Conductor, Mark Fitz-Gerald is rapidly and rightfully building a reputation for this sort of thing. His two previous recordings for Naxos, "Odna" (8570316) and "Girlfriends" (8572138), both the work of Shostakovich, are important additions to the film music literature. To this list "Carmen" should now be added. The playing of the Frankfurt RSO is passionate and generally of a very high caliber. The spacious, transparent pickup does full justice to the myriad demands of the material. The liner notes and packaging (including an attractive stylized vintage movie poster) bespeak a labor of love. Recommended without reservation.

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