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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    

Ernest CHAUSSON Poème de l’amour et de la mer Op.19
Hector BERLIOZ Les nuits d’été Op.7
Arnold SCHOENBERG Song of the Wood Dove (from Gurrelieder)
Janet Baker (mezzo soprano)
Svetlanov/LSO; Giulini/LPO; Del Mar/LSO
Recorded live at the Royal Festival Hall 1963/75

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Janet Baker excelled in French music, her Dido in The Trojans at Scottish Opera and at the Royal Opera House remain firmly etched in the memory of those who heard her. The colour, timbres and subtle shades she brings to the works on this disc are uncanny. The performances are spellbinding and in turn she seems to fire both Svetlanov and Giulini to conduct either with restraint or with unbridled passion when their respective orchestras are let off the leash. Baker has a wonderful floating quality to her pianissimo. The thread of sound is always distinct, and above all she communicates, not just in terms of the text (and no one could fault either her French or German) but in her breadth of vocal colour. The end of ‘Le spectre de la rose’ is utterly gripping after a wonderfully eloquent performance (which has been issued before) of Chausson’s Poème de l’amour et de la mer, that most neo-Wagnerian of French works, in which Svetlanov takes extreme care to balance it all. Giulini in the Berlioz lingers much but Baker rises to the challenge and is perfectly capable of sustaining the long-breathed lines to which he commits her. It is a highly romantic account but beautifully judged with the LPO in particularly fine form especially in the lustrous wind chords of ‘Absence’. It’s no quantum leap from Chausson to this particular Schoenberg work. His is a name that still tends to put people off and conjures up preconceptions of atonalism and discords. Not a bit of it. This is pure Wagnerian drama once again, dating from the first decade of the 20th century and recorded in 1963. It is directed by the largely underrated but hugely erudite Norman Del Mar. This was well before Boulez took on the BBCSO and opened up the doors and windows of this music of the 1920s to the 1950s allowing audiences to become more acquainted with the Second Viennese School composers headed by Schoenberg. It’s a wonderful work, and this extract stretches Baker’s voice at both ends, a challenge to which she rises consummately. An excellent recording, with applause only at the end of the ‘Song of the Wood Dove’, so that the breathless atmospheres established at the end of the Chausson and Berlioz works are not rudely shattered by such a mundane sound as clapping. A welcome further addition from the archival treasure trove being plundered by the Beeb. Buy while stocks last.

Christopher Fifield

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