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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


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L’ETOILE: FRENCH ARIAS
Jacques OFFENBACH (1819-1880)

Les contes d’Hoffmann: Vous sous l’archet frémissant
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)

Cendrillon: Enfin, je suis ici
Daniel François Esprit AUBER (1782-1871)

Zerline: O Palerme! O Sicile!
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)

Samson et Dalila: Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)

Les Troyens: Ah! Ah! Je vais mourir – Adieu, fière cité
MASSENET

Werther: Va! Laisse couler mes larmes
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)

Sapho: O ma lyre immortelle
BERLIOZ

La damnation de Faust: D’amour l’ardente flamme
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)

L’heure espagnole: Oh! La pitoyable aventure
Ambroise THOMAS (1811-1896)

Mignon: Connais-tu le pays?
Alexis Emmanuel CHABRIER (1841-1894)

L’étoile: Je suis Lazuli
Jennifer Larmore (mezzo-soprano), Wiener Konzertchor, Radio Symphonieorchester Wien/Bertrand de Billy
Recorded 25th-30th June 2001 at the Österreichischer Rundfunk, Vienna
TELDEC CLASSICS 8573 87193-2 [63:05]

Discs of French arias by mezzo-sopranos are becoming the order of the day. After "Nuits résplendissants" by Vesselina Kasarova, which I have reviewed, and "Flamme d’amour" by Monica Groop, which I haven’t heard, now we have "L’étoile" from Jennifer Larmore, a title no doubt intended to refer not only to the last opera represented but also to the lady herself. It is good to find that, while Groop’s disc sticks to standard fare, both Kasarova and Larmore include some more enterprising choices among the predictable ones.

I wrote very enthusiastically about Kasarova’s recital, but I see that in other quarters it has been practically rubbished on the grounds of her heavily Slavonic French. I must confess I was so taken up by the urgency of her communication that I didn’t let it worry me. On repetition I find it does begin to disturb and I hope she will do some work with a good language coach. Larmore offers, at the very least, French of a good international standard. If you want to carp, her pronunciation of words such as "amour" seems to have all "u" and no "o", we miss the piquancy of the fleeting "u" in a word like "fuit" and endings such as "vent" are less nasal than the French themselves make them. So if you are sensitive over these matters, you have been warned.

Larmore has made a particular reputation as a Rossini singer, and we can hear why in the Auber piece, very much in the Rossini mould. Brilliant articulation, plenty of bite on the words, and a sustained top C which many of her mezzo colleagues must envy. The Chabrier extract also shows a lively personality, stylish without recourse to the swooping which I felt (though most critics didn’t) so disfigured von Otter’s recent Offenbach recital. She is certainly a mezzo with soprano leanings; Cendrillon and Marguérite in Berlioz’s Faust are roles usually undertaken by mezzos like Frederica von Stade who have toyed with becoming full sopranos at some time in their careers. And, like Kasarova, she sings "O ma lyre immortelle" in B flat (there is a version in A which many mezzos prefer), and seems securer than Kasarova on the final top note. On the other hand, no one who hears the richness of tone she employs in the aria from Werther would doubt that she is a true mezzo.

If we compare Larmore in the Saint-Saëns aria with a singer like Grace Bumbry who is content with a rich, even delivery of the music (and who occasionally re-distributes the words to suit herself), we find Larmore much more alert to what she is singing about. However, the comparison with Kasarova in the extract from Les Troyens and in "O ma lyre immortelle" is revelatory; there is so much more communication and life to Kasarova’s performances. Good though she is, Larmore has a tendency to wallow in the richness of her voice, notably in the very slow tempo adopted for "D’amour l’ardente flamme". On the other hand, she avoids making the Mignon romance sound lugubrious as Kasarova does.

So far, Larmore’s forays into music later than Rossini and Donizetti have been mostly limited to American song (though she has given us Carmen). She certainly succeeds in showing that she has a more romantic side, so let us hope this discs heralds some complete recordings of major French romantic roles.

Christopher Howell



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