Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett



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Hector BERLIOZ (1803 - 1869)
Les Troyens (1890): Du peuple et des soldats (1); O Blonde Ceres (1); Inutiles regrets (1); Ah! Quand viendra l’instant; Et un dernier naufrage
L’enfance du Christ, Op. 25 (1854): Le répose de la Sainte Famille : les pélerins etant venus (1); Roméo et Juliette, Op. 17 (1839): Bientôt de Roméo … Mab, la messagère (1)
Huit Scènes de Faust, Op. 1 (1829): Maintenant que le ciel brille…Devant la maison (1,3)
La Damnation de Faust, Op. 4 (1856): Merci, doux crépuscle! (1); Grands dieux (1,2); Ange adore (1,2); Nature immense (1)
Béatrice et Bénédict (1862): Ah! Je vais l’aimer (1)
Lélio ou Le Rétour à la vie (1832): L’onde fremit, l’onde s’agite (1,3); O mon bonheur, ma vie (1)
Benvenuto Cellini (1838): Une heure encore (1); La gloire était ma seule idole (1); Seul pour lutter (1); Sur les monts les plus sauvages (1)
Claude-Joseph ROUGET DE LISLE, arr. BERLIOZ (1760 – 1836) La Marseillaise (1792)
Roberto Alagna (tenor) - 1
Angela Gheorghiu (soprano) - 2
Gérard Dépardieu (narrator) - 3
Maitrise de Paris, Choeur "Les Eléments" and Le Choeur de l’armée française (La Marseillaise)
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, conducted by Bertrand de Billy
recorded Paris, September 2002 and London September 2002, DDD.
EMI CLASSICS 5 57433-2 [69.32]

This disc should perhaps have been called "Alagna Bawls Berlioz" as it shows Alagna at his worst for much of the proceedings. The recital is excellent in that it collects together much of Berlioz’s writing for solo tenor, and in more sympathetic hands would have been welcomed with open arms. In passages where the requirement is to sing softly, one can easily appreciate why Roberto Alagna has a high reputation, as his tone can be delectable. Unfortunately for him, much of Berlioz’s writing for tenor in this recital is in declamatory mode and this does not suit our hero. The shortcomings are even more noticeable when he is joined by Angela Gheorghiu. The differences in technique and tone are very noticeable.

EMI’s production actually makes these shortcomings even worse, as the excellent accompaniment by the orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden is first class, but so badly recessed that sometimes it is difficult to hear what is going on. This means that Alagna almost drowns out the orchestral activity even when singing quietly. Given the subtlety of the composer’s writing this is a major disadvantage.

Are there any good points? Yes, most emphatically - Gérard Dépardieu’s contribution to the excerpt from Lélio makes me long for a recording of the complete work with him as narrator. This would really be something to cherish. His performance is as good as I have ever heard, and sure, while the length of the excerpt does not necessarily give a true picture of how he would deal with the whole work, it leaves me longing for more.

Most of Berlioz’s secular vocal works are represented here, and I can see that this disc will be used by fans of the tenor to illustrate the power of his voice, in French repertoire, and the area where he is gaining a growing reputation. I was surprised to see that the tenor parts of both the Te Deum and Grande Messe des Morts were ignored in this collection. If you are desperate, his contribution to the Te Deum may be heard on John Nelson’s interpretation on Virgin – here, he is heard to better advantage because of the more natural balance in the recording.

We also have an opportunity here to listen to an excerpt from the very early work, the last movement from Eight Scenes from Faust. Here Alagna is supported by Dépardieu and this is one area where we get an opportunity to hear material later utilised by the composer in The Damnation of Faust, this time accompanied by solo guitar. EMI have inserted this, I am sure, to give a little variety to the proceedings.

When this disc comes to the last item, (La Marseillaise) my eardrums were in need of some respite. None was forthcoming, as Alagna sounds as though he is leading the whole French Army from the front. The choral contributions are first class. I know that this is a patriotic song, but there surely are limits. Here, those limits are exceeded. In some parts, thank God, Roberto Alagna is related to part of the mêlée – this is the only part of the disc where this happens!

A mixed disc then, with good notes and full translations of everything in French, German, and English, together with a synopsis in English so you can find out where in the work these excerpts come from and what purpose they serve in the proceedings.

Just for fans of Roberto Alagna, I am afraid.

John Phillips

Gerard Hoffnung CDs

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