Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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Gustave CHARPENTIER (1860-1956)
Louise (1900)
Louise – Ninon Vallin (soprano)
Julien – Georges Thill (tenor)
Le Père – André Pernet (bass)
La Mère – Aimée Lecouvreur (mezzo soprano)
Irma – Christiane Gaudel (soprano)
Les Choeurs Raugel et Orchestre, Paris/Eugène Bigot
Recorded in Paris October-November 1935
Appendix; La voix de la nuit from Julien sung by Maurice Dutreix (tenor) in October 1913
NAXOS 8.110225 [74.38]

Abridgement was still very much the name of the game for operatic sets during the 78 era. In the whole of that time the only Wagner opera to approach a degree of completeness was the Elmendorff Tristan – and that was pretty much shorn of the majority of the Third Act. So it was with Charpentier’s Louise, of which a goodly number of single-sided Depuis le jour have of course survived. This set captures just short of seventy minutes and was nevertheless something of a coup for French Columbia because they managed to enlist the services of the composer himself who oversaw its production (as he was later to do with the 1938 film which starred two of the cast members here, Thill and Pernet; Grace Moore starred instead of Ninon Vallin).

The cast was a strong one, the conductor an authoritative exponent of the French repertoire and the musical selection – although less than half of the score - apposite. Furthermore the recording was good for its day, studio based, with reasonable balance between singers and orchestra. The off-stage crowd scenes were well managed and the spatial considerations were intelligently met. I didn’t hear the Nimbus version of this – NI 7829, which I suppose would take some tracking down – so this Naxos release is now the only transfer of this 1935 set in the current catalogue. Ward Marston has used a degree of reverberation and its attractiveness is a matter for the listener to decide. It softens the degree of acoustical deadness in the Parisian studio but I can’t say the original discs ever caused me huge problems in this respect. My own instincts are perhaps against this degree of – however sensitively applied – intervention but I’m sure others will appreciate the bloom imparted to the voices.

Vallin was over fifty at the time of the recording; you’d never know it. She was a famous Louise and her emotive range is considerable, whether in passionate declamation or coquettish insinuation. She remained in good technical form, her breath control being something of a marvel, and she rolled her "r" in characteristically Parisian fashion with a degree of insouciant command. There was something of a mezzo quality to her lower register, which gave her vocal mobility but the abiding impression is one of style and charm supported by knowing characterisation. It’s something of a mystery therefore why, in her most famous moment here, Depuis le jour, she makes such a relatively disappointing impression. In Thill she had a famously masculine dramatic tenor and one who continues to divide critical opinion whenever his name is mentioned. One of his standout moments here is the guitar accompanied Serenade from Act II Scene II which he sings with affectionate lyric intensity. The Father was Pernet and he takes us from bluffly sympathetic to coarsely dismissive through excellent husbandry of vocal reserves and a finely etched impersonation. At first I thought him rather too bluff but I revised my view rapidly in the light of his subsequent portrayal. The wife is Aimée Lecouvreur, a believably quarrelsome and meddlesome figure with mezzo darkness to her voice. And the Irma is Christiane Gaudel who really scores in the Tableau 2 scene in the Second Act where she and the other girls tease Louise with a degree of authentic cattiness.

Bigot directs splendidly. The orchestra doesn’t always play with any great degree of refinement but they can rise to peaks of expressivity when necessary – listen to the strings in Elle va (track 4 – Scenes IV and V in Act Two) where they are luscious. The brass comes to the fore in the crowd scenes (the Coronation) where they blend well with the chorus and the other orchestral sections.

We finish with an appendix - La voix de la nuit from Julien sung by tenor Maurice Dutreix in October 1913. This was the sequel to Louise, which starred Caruso and Farrar when it opened at the Met – but gradually lost ground and pretty much disappeared from the repertory. It brings the disc up to above the 70-minute mark and is good company for such an estimably cast and impressively compiled Louise.

Jonathan Woolf

See also review by Robert Hugill

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