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Barbara Hendricks - Orchestral Songs
Hector BERLIOZ
(1803 - 1869)
Les Nuits d’Été [33.11]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913 - 1976)
Les Illuminations
[23.06]
Maurice RAVEL (1875 - 1937)
Shéhérazade [16.15]
Deux Melodies hébraïques [5.29]
Cinq Mélodies populaires grècques [6.16]
Vocalise en forme de habañera [2.31]
Henri DUPARC (1848 - 1933)
L’Invitation au voyage [4.22]
Au pays où se fait la guerre [4.44]
La vie antérieure [4.10]
Le Manoir de Rosemonde [2.10]
Phidylé [5.09]
Chanson Triste [3.21]
Barbara Hendricks (soprano)
English Chamber Orchestra/Colin Davis (Berlioz, Britten)
Lyons Opera Orchestra/John Eliot Gardiner (Ravel, Duparc)
rec. 1-3, 6 October 1992, No.1 Studio, Abbey Road, London (Berlioz, Britten); 13-15, 17-18 October 1988, Eglise-Forteresse Sainte Marie Madeleine de Perouges (Ravel, Duparc). DDD
EMI CLASSICS 2344022 [56.18 + 55.28]
Experience Classicsonline

This is a double CD set which assembles two of Barbara Hendricks recitals of orchestral songs. It is part of a series of Barbara Hendricks reissues on EMI Classics. The others cover Mozart Arias, Nordic Songs/Wolf, Sacred Arias and Spirituals.
 
The first disc of the set is one she released in 1994, performing Les Nuits d’Été and Les Illuminations with the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Colin Davis. The second disc is a 1989 release where she sings Ravel and Duparc songs with the Lyon Opera Orchestra under John Eliot Gardiner.
 
Inevitably the names of other singers flit into the mind when considering these various song-cycles; for instance both Régine Crespin and Janet Baker have recorded well admired versions of Berlioz and Ravel’s Shéhérezade. The reasoning behind a reissue such as this is perhaps more to create a portrait of a valued artist than to provide replacements for library recommendations.
 
Hendricks has spent most of her working life based in Europe and is very much associated with French music. She also has an attractive, but very distinctive voice. This has a rather creamy texture, with the combination of a pronounced but tight vibrato and a fine sense of line. But there is also an element of coolness to the voice; it does not respond well to pressure, creating rather a fluttery effect in the upper region.
 
Colin Davis is inevitably a safe pair of hands in which to place Les Nuits d’Été and he does not disappoint, though the speeds are rather slower than some of his earlier performances. I don’t think that these tempi always suit the lyric nature of Hendricks’ voice, where a darker one might have benefited more. I would imagine that a fleeter, lighter performance would enable Hendricks to bring out more. As it is she is beautifully passionate and not a little languorous. But sometimes she is rather too cool. Though she brings out the words she does not impress them into vibrancy in the way that someone like Crespin does. There are many occasions when the results are simply beautiful, but in a way which makes you long for something more, especially in the songs which ask for a deeper passion. Berlioz originally anticipated these songs being performed by a group of different voices and there is a sense that no single singer can bring everything to every song.
 
Les Illuminations is an interesting companion for the Berlioz, pointing up surprising links and commonalities. The link with the Berlioz also makes you wonder what a Régine Crespin performance of the Britten might have been like!
 
The work suits Hendricks voice well - it is a piece where lightness and clarity are necessary. Davis proves himself a very apt accompanist in this as much as in the Berlioz. But though Hendricks projects the line with beauty and good diction, she never seems to relish the words in a way which I think is required.
 
For the second disc, Hendricks and Eliot Gardiner give us Ravel’s Shéhérazade, Deux Mélodies hebraïques, Cinq Mélodies populaire grècques and a selection of Duparc’s songs.

Hendricks Shéhérazade is quietly beautiful. The slight coolness I mentioned above seems to suit Ravel’s style and she is entrancing in the way she captures the languor and longing in the songs. She is neither voluptuous like Crespin nor rich like Baker. But in a way not captured in the Berlioz, she manages to suit her style brilliantly to the work. The other Ravel works are on a similar plane and Hendricks is well accompanied by Eliot Gardiner and his players. The Lyon Opera Orchestra contributes some superb playing and gives the music a delicacy and transparency which is entirely apt to Hendricks.
 
For the Duparc songs, the general level of music-making remains on this high level. Each song is beautifully characterised, but I longed for a richer, warmer voice. I associate mezzo-sopranos with this repertoire. Yet a light lyric soprano like that of Hendricks just does not quite manage to imbue the songs with the feeling of romantic longing.
 
None of these recordings would be my first library choice, but all have something to be said for them. As a set they add up to a fascinating portrait of a talented and well-loved artist.
 
Robert Hugill
 


 


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