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Ernest CHAUSSON (1855-1899)
Poème de l’amour et de ma mer (1890) [25.26]
Elsa Maurus (mezzo)
Hector BERLIOZ (1903-1869)

Les nuits d’été (1843) [28.35]
Elsa Maurus (mezzo)
Paul DUKAS (1865-1935)

La Péri (1912) [1909]
Orchestre National de Lille/Jean-Claude Casadesus
rec. 26-28 February 2003, Auditorium du Nouveau Siècle, Lille. DDD
NAXOS 8.557274 [73.21]

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An imaginative programme of French music from Naxos, featuring three quite wonderful pieces, and with good recorded sound. The Lille orchestra emerges with the utmost credit, playing sensitively and providing lustrous tone whenever it is required. In the case of the Chausson Poème de l’amour et de la mer, this is rather frequently.

The other important ingredient here is of course, the central role of the mezzo-soprano Elsa Maurus. She acquits herself with distinction, particularly in the lush romanticism of the Chausson. Conductor Jean-Claude Casadesus has just the right touch in this music, knowing when to linger indulgently and when to press forward.

The Berlioz songs are nicely performed too, though with somewhat less distinction. This (first?) orchestral song-cycle finds the composer at the height of his powers, but in truth the music is only heard to maximum effect with a group of singers – mezzo-soprano, tenor, bass – as originally intended. True Berlioz once again makes unreasonable demands in this sense; but for the romantic artist being reasonable is scarcely a priority. There are two excellent performances of the music in this indulgent version: conducted by Sir John Eliot Gardiner (Erato/Apex also superbudget price) and by Sir Colin Davis (Philips). Beyond that, the versions by Janet Baker (EMI) and Régine Crespin (Decca) are very special too. In this illustrious company Elsa Maurus is under pressure; and that she remains satisfying in tone and projection is praise indeed.

The creative achievement of Paul Dukas tends to be dominated by the famous Sorcerer’s Apprentice, but there is more to him than that. La Péri was conceived as a ballet score, but like so many 20th century ballets the music has made its way in the concert hall. The scoring is masterly, not least in the magnificent opening fanfare. Casadesus presses ahead here and elsewhere, when there is perhaps more personality of phrasing to be found. Much of this score is atmospheric, even impressionistic, and the Lille players revel in the opportunities they are given.

Terry Barfoot


see also reviews by Christopher Howell and John Quinn

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