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Lindsay Koob
American Record Guide, March 2011

Naxos assembled a particularly outstanding team of performers for this one. The choir (Te Deum only) and orchestra perform flawlessly and with infectious Gallic flair. The soloists are truly outstanding; I was particularly taken with Katarina Jovanovic’s commanding dramatic soprano voice, and tenor Philippe Do offers several conspicuous moments of ringing vocal glory. Sound quality is excellent all-around, and the notes are useful. As is increasingly the case with Naxos’s choral releases, texts are not included, though they can be found quickly on-line. This release is essential listening for any fan of Bizet or French music of his time.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Edward Greenfield
Gramophone, February 2011

Delightful discovery

This is a disc guaranteed to delight anyone who has ever responded to the youthful sparkle of Bizet’s Symphony in C. Like the Symphony, the dramatic cantata Clovis et Clotilde and the ambitious Te Deum date from the composer’s teenage years. The cantate was Bizet’s entry to the Prix de Rome in 1857, which he won, while the Te Deum was written during the same period for the same judges. Both works have remained in oblivion—quite undeservedly, as these outstanding performances bear witness. Passages in the cantate reflect the music of his teacher, Gounod, but more often Bizet’s own distinctive style is reflected in the abundant lyricism. Plainly, even in his teens, Bizet had a fully developed talent.

The cantata tells the story of the conversion to Christianity of the Frankish King Clovis by his wife, Clotilde. It divides neatly into two halves, for Clovis, a tenor role brilliantly and freshly sung by Philippe Do, emerges only halfway through. Until then Clotilde, brightly sung by Katarian Jovanovic, takes pride of place along with her father, Rémy, sung by Mark Schnaible. There are many moments to cherish, notably Clotilde’s prayer, starting on an exquisitely delicate pianissimo. Otherwise Jovanovic is fearless in tackling exposed top notes cleanly and precisely. The tenor, Philippe Do, has no separate aria, although the central duet between Clovis and Clotilde culminates in a substantial solo for him. Do’s diction is excellent (fortunate when the notes do not contain any texts, though otherwise they are ideally informative).

The Te Deum makes an ideal coupling. It was not published until 1971, and it seems that Bizet was so discouraged at the lukewarm reception it received from the Prix de Rome judges that he decided not to attempt any more religious music. After a grand choral opening, the tenor soloist enters with the first of his powerful solos. Though the Te Deum ends with the rather downbeat “Let me never be confounded”, Bizet ignores that sentiment in a triumphant close. Altogether another highly enjoyable piece, adding to the attractions of a disc beautifully recorded in clean, well-balanced sound—in every way a delightful discovery.

Ian Lace
MusicWeb International, January 2011

Here are two youthful works by Bizet written while he was still a student. Both are dramatic and theatrical, not surprisingly considering the future operatic work of this composer. His Clovis et Clotilde gained him second place in the prestigious Prix de Rome competition but it was decided that Bizet should be the one that was sent to Rome. Bizet’s Cantata tells the story of the Frankish King Clovis and how he was converted to Christianity through his wife Clotilde. This was before he went on to establish Frankish rule throughout what is now France through victorious battles.

This rare performance of Clovis et Clotilde displays Bizet’s remarkable early confidence. It begins with an imposing Overture, noble and heroic with a tender middle section that nods towards Mendelssohn and Schumann. Scene 1 has a recitative in which an anxious Clotilde awaits news of Clovis away at battle but convinced of his success. Following on is her aria ‘Romance’ in which she fondly remembers his handsome looks, his romantic nature and his prowess with the javelin. Glorious-voiced Katarina Jovanovic finely balances queenly dignity with wifely concern. Scene 2 comprises an impassioned dialogue between Clotilde and Bishop Remigius (an oaken-voiced and authoritative Mark Schnaible) who encourages her to pray for her husband’s victory. Scene 3 has Clotilde at prayer pleading for the safety of Clovis. This is a deeply poignant episode with Jovanovic most affecting. Scene 4 comprises four thrilling heroic duets between Clovis and Clotilde in which a virile but somewhat lightweight-voiced Philippe Do—in comparison to the darker-coloured more imposing voice of his Clotilde—discusses the details of his victories. Casadesus’s orchestra vividly sketches in the battle scenes. Scene 5 has the Bishop pouring blessings and prayers for peace and prosperity on Clovis’s France and its peoples—all this over an exquisite, rippling harp solo. The three singers join in an exciting and enraptured trio of celebration. In short this is a work of youthful ardour that should have received more recognition.

No less committed is Bizet’s grandiose Te Deum—written with the memory of Berlioz’s grand work echoing in his head one might imagine. The Te Deum was written one year after Clovis et Clotilde while Bizet was studying in Rome. The work failed to win a prize. Consequently Bizet shrugged it off thinking that religious works were not really his forte. It remained unpublished until 1971. It has to be admitted that this reviewer, new to this work, felt that the Tu rex gloriae movement leans perilously towards banality at times. It is saved by Jovanovic in full-throated powerful mode. In the moving Te ergo quaesumus she is correspondingly tenderly affecting. Bizet is at his most comfortable in the opening Te Deum laudamus where he is in full-blooded heroic mode. Philippe Do is more impressive in this work allowing full rein to the lower register of his voice.

Two colourful youthful works, full of ardour, and worth consideration.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, November 2010

Two little-know works from Bizet’s student years are here making a rare appearance on disc. As a gifted child he entered the Paris Conservatoire at the age of ten intent on becoming a composer. Like others of similar inclinations, entry of the Prix de Rome Competition was seen as imperative, his first attempt in 1856, at the age of 18, resulting in the second prize. The following year he took the award with was the cantata, Clovis et Clotilde, and with it came a period living and working in Rome on a stipend. As a student of Gounod and Halévy, there was little wonder that the work came rather close to becoming a short opera. The text was supplied by Amédée Burion, a writer probably more ambitious than naturally gifted, and tells the story of King Clovis and his conversion to Christianity by virtue of his wife, Clotilde. He then embarked on a crusade to unite two factions into the country we know today as France. It shows signs of Bizet’s undoubted gifts, not least in the jubilant finale. In Italy he was required to show proof of his work, the first being a Te Deum, eventhough he later admitted that sacred music was not his strong point. In four quite short sections, it calls for soprano, tenor, chorus and orchestra. Lots of Italian influences, but little you would recognise as coming from Bizet’s French background. The performers show admirable dedication to both scores, with some high powered singing from the soprano, Katarina Jovanovic, and a young tenor I have already enjoyed on stage, Philippe Do. Sturdy and with a wide vibrato, Mark Schnaible completes the solo line-up, Jean-Claude Casadesus directing his admirable and responsive Lille orchestra.

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