> Shirley Verrett: Massenet - Chaussson [TB]: Classical CD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
'Je vous écris de ma petite chambre'
'Je ne l'ai pas trouvée'
'Allons! Il le faut!'
'Je marche sur tous les chemins'
Ernest CHAUSSON (1855-1899)

Poème de l'amour et de la mer

Shirley Verrett (mezzo-soprano)
Orchestra Sinfonica di Torino della RAI/Gabriele Ferro
Recorded September 1981, Auditorium di Torino della RAI
WARNER FONIT 0927 43341-2 [52.11]


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Shirley Verrett is a true artist, always dedicated to the cause of the music she performs, whether it be in the opera house or the concert hall. This recital presents her in both capacities, though the operatic extracts are studio performances and therefore taken out of their real context.

The recording captures her in good vocal form, particularly in the group of Massenet pieces from three of his operas. The perspective tends to favour her at the expense of the orchestra, but in this music much of the interest lies in the vocal line and there is little damage to the musical experience. She makes a beguiling heroine in the two pieces from Manon, always sensitive to the text and the character. Not that the English speaking, no-linguist listener need worry too much about the details of this, since the texts and translations offer only French and Italian. The booklet notes, however, do have a translation into English.

Charlotte's recitative and aria from Act III of Werther is delivered with great feeling, and Verrett's grading and shaping of phrases makes telling use of dynamic control. So too the extract from the less famous opera, Hérodiade, in which her portrayal of the princess Salomé is sensitively and dramatically drawn from the earlier stages of the opera, before the tragic events unfold.

If Verrett's artistry carries the day in the Massenet items, the major work recorded here remains Chausson's extended symphonic poem for voice and orchestra, the Poème de l'amour et de la mer. Again there is much to be said in praise of the vocal quality of the performance, although the subtleties of the text are not always so convincingly conveyed. This may reflect the problems of the recording, however, since the perspective so favours the voice that Chausson's sensitively drawn and beautifully coloured orchestral writing frequently makes little or no effect. For this reason alone the performance ranks as a disappointment when matched against some particularly distinguished competition, for example the recordings by Victoria de los Angeles (EMI), Linda Finnie (Chandos) and Jessye Norman (Erato). The original Turin recording was remastered in 2002, but presumably little could be done to redress the balance.

Terry Barfoot

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