has easily one of the most exquisite
voices in the business today; moreover
anything she does is uncommonly intelligent
and musically informed. With this recording
Naxos enters the echelons of upmarket
performances. In this material, Gens
outclasses Kiri te Kanawa in terms of
vocal beauty and is in an altogether
different league interpretatively. She
is even a match for the venerable recording
made by the late Victoria de los Angeles.
Indeed, she may even have an edge over
her competitors, for Gens is a native
of the Auvergne. She would have grown
up well aware of the history and traditions
of regional culture. I have no idea
whether she speaks the dialect, but
her way with these texts is natural
In our age of cultural
homogeneity, it's hard to appreciate
what regional identity meant in an earlier
age, and how important it was. Canteloube
was called "le bard d'Auvergne"
because he was passionately involved
in preserving the folklore and music
of his native land. At the turn of the
century many composers returned to folk
idiom for inspiration – Vaughan Williams,
for example – but Canteloube was himself
a genuine man of the people, so to speak,
who had grown up in the countryside.
When he went to farms and villages to
collect folk music, he could communicate
as an equal, without condescension.
His music therefore has a particularly
vivid, exotic feel to it. There are
echoes of a musical tradition outside
the mainstream, shaped by the mountainous
isolation of many parts of the Auvergne.
Many of Canteloube's songs are also
informed by "medieval" music,
and the romance of the troubadour tradition.
The Trois Bourrées could
have stepped out from a medieval fair.
This is yet another reason why Gens
carries this music off with such verve;
her background is in early music and
the baroque. She approaches songs like
Lou bousu and Malurous qu'o
uno fenno with vigour, understanding
the earthy nature of pre-modern music.
These songs are not technically challenging,
but they need to be sung without affectation
with great flair, making the most of
the flamboyant gestures and joyful rhythms.
The orchestra is very focused and expressive.
Special mention too should be made of
soloists like the horn player in La
delaïssádo and the pianist
in Passo pel Prat. This recording
is so distinctive that I've little doubt
it will be the definitive Chants
d'Auvergne for many years to come.
Gens raises Naxos's artistic image by
her brilliance, and this recording will
sell, and sell, and sell ......
review by Rob Barnett [Recording
of the Month]