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Roberto Alagna (tenor) Sacred Songs
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Ave Maria [2.58] **; Repentir [5.24] *
César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Panis Angelicus [4.00]
Adolphe ADAM (1803-1856)
Minuit, chrétiens!
[4.55] *
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
O salutaris
La Procession [5.02]
Charles GOUNOD
from ‘Messe solennelle de Sainte Cecile’ [6.11]; Salutation Angelique [3.48]
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
from ‘Requiem’ [10.18]
Jean-Baptiste FAURE (1830-1914)
Crucifix [3.22] *
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Panis Angelicus [3.30]
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
Agnus Dei
André CAPLET (1878-1925)
Panis Angelicus
Lili BOULANGER (1893-1918)
Pie Jesu
* Arrangement and orchestration by Alain Kremski
** Arrangement by Thilo Winter
Roberto Alagna (tenor)
Petits Chanteurs à la Croix Potencée
Chorus and Orchestra du Capitole de Toulouse/Michel Plasson
rec. Eglise Notre-Dame de la Daurade, Toulouse, 2-6 May 1996.
Texts in Latin, English, German and French.
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 477 6278 [68.01]


Discs of this type featuring star soloists, more often than not a tenor, are not in short supply. This one, recorded a decade ago as a vehicle for Roberto Alagna and first issued by EMI, scores over many alternatives because of two factors: the programming and the quality of execution.

Any programme focusing on French chants sacrés of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is almost bound to include Gounod’s often performed Ave Maria, written after Bach’s famous prelude in the ‘Well-tempered clavier’. To place it at the beginning – as here – is apt and allows the musical content to diversify from that point. Gounod’s representation is extended with three further contributions that pay testament to the importance not only of his compositional voice but also his deeply felt beliefs, which he sought to convey through his music. Other composers whose names one would expect to appear within a disc of this type are represented (Berlioz, Franck and Fauré) along with others whose music merits more than the occasional airing it gets – outside France at least: Caplet, Boulanger and Jean-Baptiste Fauré, who during his lifetime was better known as a star baritone.

There is much to merit the performances as well. The Toulouse orchestra under the equally experienced and alert baton of Michel Plasson offer assured accompaniments to each item. The orchestra is resonantly recorded to ensure depth of tone but not an unduly pronounced role in proceedings. Choral parts, where employed, tend on the whole to be slightly recessed in the church acoustic that is faithfully conveyed in the recording too, but this does not impede enjoyment of the carefully homogenised sound that the choirs produce. Texts are included, but are only on occasion needed to follow what is being sung.

Alagna’s contribution then is the only thing left to comment on, and I need not detain you long if you know other discs he recorded at around the same time in his career. Given that the programme contains two versions of the Sanctus and three of Panis Angelicus some variety of expression is needed if the texts are not to lose part of the individuality they gain through different composers’ settings. True, in forte he has a tendency to push the tone a little too much perhaps, but at least he varies the effect to show awareness of line and allow for supple phrasing of the texts he sings. A pity perhaps that he did not assume more Berlioz around this time, since he displays many necessary attributes in abundance: vocal strength and sureness of line and an awareness of French style, even though the text is in Latin. These qualities mark out much of what he brings to the items by Gounod and Franck on this recording too. However it would be a mistake to think of Alagna as possessing only a forthright urgency; then (more so than now) he was able to shade down to the most winning of pianissimi that bring an Italian tenor sound to mind as much as a French one. The delicacy found in Lili Boulanger’s moving chamber-scaled Pie Jesu shows this quality at its finest.

This is a welcome and most warmly recommendable reissue.

Evan Dickerson 


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