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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
Amoureuse: Sacred and Profane Arias

Sainte Therese Prie
Amoureuse

La Grande Tante: Je vais bientot quitter
Marie Magdeleine: O mes soeurs
Eve: O nuit
La Vierge: O mon fils
La Vierge: Rêve infini
Hérodiade: Il est doux, il est bon
Le Cid: Plus de tourments
Le Cid: Pleurez mes yeux
Sappho: Ce que j’appelle beau
Sappho: Ah, vous avez parlé
Sappho: Solitude, demain je partirai
Sappho: Vais-je rester ici?
Grisélidis: Loÿs! Loÿs!
Chérubin: Vous parlez de péril
Ariane: Avec tes compagnes guerrières
Ariane: Je comprends un héros! Un roi
Ariane: Ils mentaient! A quoi bon
Rosamund Illing (soprano),
Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra, Richard Bonynge
Rec. November 1998 Eugene Goossens Hall, ABC Sydney Australia
MELBA 301080 [74.43]


This disc is one of four Australian vocal CDs newly released in the UK via DI Music.

Jules Massenet lived when the main opera scene was reasonably firmly fixed on the style of Verdi and only those who composed in the Italian image were likely to be taken seriously. The Germans, with their love for Wagner, regarded his music as trifling, not to be taken seriously and certainly not art. The Viennese, after hearing his Manon performed by the Court Opera, applauded his art and even asked for a sequel to be written.

On this disc examples are selected from a number of his operas and oratorios. To many Massenet did not fit the mould and was overshadowed by Debussy and Ravel. He enjoyed some success and, like Gounod, he re-established a natively French style that no other composer since Rameau had managed to do. One can judge for oneself how one would categorise his operatic compositions.

The aria tracks are taken from the oratorios and operas in chronological order.

Massenet’s writing contains a wealth of orchestral colour and melody, but the vocalist generally sings in the style of a recitative and any melody line is invariably absent. There is a belief that his setting of the French language has not been surpassed - which is understandable. The arias tend to drift, dreamlike, with a Puccini quality to some of them. But certainly there is little which is memorable about them. Of the four Melba discs in the series, this one is the least successful. The arias may seem perfectly in place within the compass of a full opera, but to take short extracts for a 75 minute CD (19 tracks) with one singer providing the vocal element, however good she is, is bound to produce monotony. While a few of the arias do offer variety the majority are similar and don’t work.

Rosamund Illing has a reputation as a fine and versatile singer and she doesn’t disappoint in her singing of Massenet. Maybe there could be more variation in dynamics and characterisation in some of the arias, but really the fault lies with Massenet, not Illing.

Richard Bonynge needs no introduction: he conducts with panache and the orchestra does full justice to the rich scores.

The recording is excellent and the booklet contains all lyrics clearly set out in German, English, and French. Rodney Milnes’ notes on Massenet are detailed and promote the composer with considerable strength. An interesting study on Massenet by Graham Johnson is also included and, as he rightly says, every composer has his place and one day may be re-evaluated. If Debussy wrote that ‘the working classes hummed Massenet’s tunes on their way to work’ I find little evidence of 'hummability' in his arias and he must have been referring to some quite different compositions. This is another well produced first class recording from Melba.


Raymond Walker


The other three Melba discs are— Songs of Richard Strauss, The Power of Love (Balfe/Wallace/Sullivan), The Floral Dance [favourite songs (1860-1930) of Peter Dawson]

 


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