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
also superbudget price) and by Sir Colin
Beyond that, the versions by Janet Baker
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.
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Howell and John