> French Arias Ben Heppner [RF]: Classical CD Reviews- Jun2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Ben HEPPNER (ten)
London Voices
London Symphony Orchestra/Myung-Whun Chung
Recorded All Saints Church, London June/July 2001. Full Price
DG 471 372-2 GH [74.05]


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Les Troyens - Act V: Recitative and Aria: 'Inutiles regrets 'Ah quand viendra' (Berlioz). La Damnation de Faust Act IV: 'Nature immense impenetrable et fiere'. Act III: 'Merci doux crepuscule' (Faust). Act II: 'Seul pour lutter seul avec mon courage' (Cellini). Beatrice et Benedict Act I: 'Ah je vais l'aimer' (Benedict). La Juive Act IV: 'Rachel quand du seigneur la grace tutelaire (Halevy). Sapho Act I: 'Ah qu'il est loin mon pays (Massenet). Le Cid Act III: 'O Souverain o juge o pere. Act I: 'O noble lame etincelante' (Rodrigue). L'Africaine Act IV: 'Pays merveilleux O paradis'. Les Huguenots Act I: 'Ah quel spectacle ..Plus blanche. Le Prophete Act III: 'Roi du Ciel' (Meyerbeer). Marseillaise for Tenor Chorus and Orchestra (De Lisle arr. Berlioz).

Riches don't often come in threes! This recording of French opera arias follows distinguished recent issues, from the same genre, by the young lyric tenors Marcello Alvarez and Roberto Alagna, the latter winning a Gramophone 'Award'.

Thus far we have tended to know Heppner as a 'heldentenor' because of his achieved recordings of Wagner operas (and those lost by the abortion of Dohnanyi's Ring and the death of Solti). He is not, nor ever was, a heldentenor with a baritonal hue to the voice, rather his timbre is more of the true lyric-dramatic tenor with heroic ring and sufficient heft to take on some Wagnerian roles.

Whilst Alvarez chose some arias composed by Italians, albeit in French, Heppner, like Alagna, presents a pure French collection. Most pleasingly there is little overlap of repertoire (four items with Alagna) and the selection takes us sufficiently off the beaten track to be really interesting. Heppner's French may not be as good as Alagna's, but it is idiomatic and far better than, for example, Domingo's with whom we can compare renditions of the famous aria 'O paradis' (tr 10). Heppner comes very well out of the comparison - praise indeed! Likewise, his Eleazer (Halévy's 'La Juive' tr 6) is particularly impressive- What Heppner brings to the whole collection is open-throated, musically intelligent, performances with a good variety of tonal colours and elegance of phrase. These qualities are particularly evident in the two arias from 'Le Cid' (tr 8-9). Yes there is a little sameness about some of the characterisation, and once or twice a brief sound of strain catches the microphone.

The recording is well balanced and clear, with Chung a sympathetic and idiomatic conductor. The chorus make a vibrant contribution, not least in the stirring rendition of Berlioz's arrangement of 'La Marseillaise', (tr13). The booklet has brief essays and translations in English and German. My only quibble is the sequencing of the contents. By accident, or design, it seems to be alphabetical by composer rather than by composition date or composer period (accepting that there is some overlap). I praise, too, the generous 74 minutes playing time.

A recording well worth issuing and purchasing.

Robert J Farr

See also Marc Bridle's interview with Ben Heppner


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