Some Naxos bargains
have virtually reinvented our concept
of what a "bargain basement"
is - because they are equal or superior
to anything to be found at top price.
Others, alas, have not really been worth
even the modest sum asked. This one
conforms to the old-fashioned concept
of "a good buy at the price"
- straightforward, unfussy, musical
performances by artists who are not
trying to make points but just concentrate
on doing a good job.
Elsa Maurus may not
be the most subtle artist around. She
doesn't command the sort of nuance you
get from the young Victoria de los Angeles's
Berlioz with Charles Munch and the Boston
Symphony Orchestra. There's not exactly
a personality to her singing that you
remember, but she has the sort of dark,
warm mezzo which is surely right for
Chausson and at least three of the Berlioz
(and the most important three, for which
reason this cycle goes better with a
low mezzo than a soprano even if the
first song is inevitably heavy). She
opens out thrillingly at climaxes though
in quieter moments that same vibrato
which is exciting in forte prevents
an ideal focus in piano. Oddly enough,
the first phrase of "Le temps de
lilas" is sung with a hushed intensity
which might have been employed more
often - her phrasing is musical but
rather generalized. Still, these are
performances you can reliably use to
get to know the music. Incidentally,
Maurus sings the optional low F flat
in "Sur les lagunes" with
evident ease - not even all contraltos
would attempt that. In short, if you
are in the mood for a decadent wallow
you should find this right up your street.
While the de los Angeles
recording was fortunate in having a
leading Berlioz conductor on the rostrum,
some other distinguished singers (Elly
Ameling and Frederica von Stade were
two such that came my way recently)
were hampered by a conductor who apparently
sleepwalked through the sessions. Here
again, we are fortunate in a conductor
who provides all the warmth and colour
needed, who does not allow the Chausson
to become turgid and who, on his own,
provides a suitably hedonistic reading
of Dukas's second best-known work.
Dukas seems to have
been a bit of a victim of coincidences.
The conservative idiom will lead you
to suppose that Stravinsky pinched a
theme for his "Firebird" from
the older composer, but "Firebird"
was actually written a year before "La
péri". The question is,
had Dukas heard it yet? Just as the
bassoon theme from "L'apprenti
sorcier" was "cribbed"
by Holst in his slightly later "Planets",
yet Holst assured us that he had not
heard the Dukas piece at the time he
wrote "The Planets".
The recordings reproduce
easily and well, texts are provided
with translations and an excellent essay
by - would you believe it? - Keith Anderson.
I'm beginning to wonder if this isn't
a synonym for four or five different
writers. Could one man write
so many notes, and good ones too, and
when does he find time to eat and sleep?
In short, if you don't
have these works - and the Chausson
is a gorgeous piece - or indeed, at
this price, if you have one or two of
them but not all three, this disc is
well worth your money.
see also review
by John Quinn