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Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
Du peuple et des soldats (Les Troyens)
O blonde Cères (Les Troyens)
Inutiles Regrets (Les Troyens)
Les pelerins étants venus (L’Enfance du Christ)
Mab, la messagère (Roméo et Juliette)
Merci, doux Crépuscule (La Damnation de Faust)
Sérénade de Mephistophélès (Huit Scènes de Faust) (2)
Ange Adore (La Damnation de Faust) (1)
Nature Immense (La Damnation de Faust)
Ah! Je vais aimer (Béatrice et Benedict)
L’onde frémit, l’onde s’agite (Lélio) (2)
O mon bonheur, ma vie (Lélio)
Une heure encore (Benvenuto Cellini)
Seul pour lutter (Benvenuto Cellini)
Claude-Joseph ROUGET DE LISLE (1760-1836) arr. BERLIOZ La Marseillaise
Roberto Alagna (tenor)
Angela Georghiu (soprano) (1)
Gérard Depardieu (speaker) (2)
Les Eléments; French Army Chorus; Maîtrise de Paris
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House/Bertrand de Billy
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 00289 477 6277 [69.32]


It is curious how two critics, when listening to the same voice or record, can come away with two very different views. When this disc was first issued in 2003 Alan Blyth made the following two statements in the Gramophone, ‘I can think of no other tenor of the past, let alone present, who would dare quite as much as Alagna had done here’ and ‘From the more distant past, Georges Thill, whom Alagna singing in French often calls to mind’.
 
I would probably agree with the first statement, but disagree with Alan Blyth when it came to considering whether Alagna should have dared so much. Regarding the second statement, it has always puzzled me how critics compared Alagna to the great French tenors of the past: John Steane does so in the booklet for Alagna’s 2001 recital of French opera arias. Granted Alagna singing in French is always a joy to listen to, but his technique owes far more to his Italian heritage than French; the open-throated-ness of his singing would seem to have little in common with such tenors as Georges Thill. But, since the war, we have become used to tenors singing the French repertoire with a variety of foreign techniques and in comparison to these, Alagna with his ideal French pronunciation seems perfect despite his Italianate timbre.
 
The other puzzling thing about this disc is the selection of items; there are some alarmingly short excerpts on the disc. The opening recit. from Act 1 of Les Troyens barely gives Alagna time to register before it is abruptly over. If would surely have been fairer to the singer and to Berlioz to have either omitted the excerpt or given us the ensuing ensemble. Alagna seems uncomfortable in the fast-paced heroics required of his voice in this piece. He is closer to the ideal in Iopas’s aria, though his tone is meatier and richer than I am used to, having been brought up on a sequence of English lyric tenors singing this repertoire. He is at his best in Énée’s Act 5 aria, Inutiles regrets partly because the longer excerpt gives him more time to register. Alagna’s voice is not that of an ideal Énée, his open timbre means that he lacks the narrow focus and sense of line that is desirable in this music.
 
The most curious aspect of the selection from Les Troyens is that the love duet is omitted. Given that Angela Georghiu sings on other tracks on the disc, it is a great shame that this was not recorded as it would make far greater sense of the excerpts from Énée’s part.
 
The following three tracks show Alagna at his versatile best, a beautifully sung excerpt from L’Enfance du Christ, the brilliant Mab, la messagère from Roméo et Juliette and Merci, doux crépuscule from La Damnation de Faust.
 
Berlioz preceded La Damnation by his Huit scènes de Faust and Alagna gives us Mephistophélès’s Serenade from this latter; Mephistopheles being taken by a tenor in the earlier work. The voice seems to be accompanied by just a guitar in a fascinating glimpse into Berlioz’s earlier version of the legend. Alagna, though, seems to be rather effortful in this music; perhaps a lighter more lyric voice is required.
 
He is more at home in the further excerpts from La Damnation de Faust where he has a sure feel for the style. He is partnered by Angela Georghiu’s touchingly fragile Marguérite.
 
Je vais l’aimer from Béatrice et Benedict would again have benefited from a lighter-voiced singer but Alagna is entirely convincing and again has a sure feel for the style.
 
Even more fascinating is the inclusion of two excerpts from Lélio, the monodrama which Berlioz wrote as a sequel to the Symphonie Fantastique. Alagna is on good form here and both excerpts are sung exquisitely, making me wish that there had been more from this neglected work.
 
As with Énée, Alagna is not my ideal choice for the role of Benvenuto Cellini. He dropped out of the more recent concert performances and recording sessions under John Nelson so we will probably not now hear him in the complete role. But here he is stylish and musical, even if he does not bring to the role the sparkle and lightness of touch that would be ideal.
 
I found this recital a little too bitty for comfort. The sequences of medium and short length excerpts (20 tracks in under 70 minutes) do not really coalesce into a satisfying whole; neither do they really succeed as a showpiece for Alagna. Both Berlioz and Alagna would have been better served if the producers had selected fewer, longer excerpts and concentrated on roles that fitted Alagna’s voice best.
 
Alagna receives decent support from Bertrand de Billy and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House. De Billy does not strike me as being a passionate Berlioz lover but he accompanies Alagna well enough. Neither Angela Georghiu’s soprano nor Gérard Depardieu’s speaker get enough recording time, I would have liked to have heard more of them.
 
But when all is said and done, this record does give us the chance to hear Berlioz performed by a native French speaker and sung by a singer of great musicality.
 
Robert Hugill
 

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Reviews of recent DG releases of Roberto Alagna
4776273 - Bel canto: Göran Forsling
4776276 - Nessun dorma: Göran Forsling
4776278 - Sacred songs: Evan Dickerson
4776279 - Verdi arias: Robert J Farr



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