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match any I’ve heard

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personable, tuneful, approachable

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music that will be new to most people

telling, tough, thoughtful, emotionally fleet and powerfully recorded

hitherto unrecorded Latvian music


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Ernest CHAUSSON (1833–1897)
Poème de l'amour et de la mer, op. 19 [26:43]
Hector BERLIOZ (1803–1869)
Les Nuits d’été, Op. 7 [28:41]
Henri DUPARC (1848–1933)
Le manoir de Rosemonde [2:32]
L’invitation au voyage
Chanson triste
Soile Isokoski (soprano)
Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra/John Storgårds
rec. 2014, Helsinki Music Centre, Finland.
English, French, Finnish; French texts with English translation
ONDINE ODE1261-2 [64:46]

Soile Isokoski continues to delight with her silvery lyric soprano. She is now in her late fifties and her vibrato has loosened ever so slightly but she still maintains a seamless legato and the purest of tones. Her latest recital is a tempting compilation of works by three great masters of the French mélodie, thematically united by their treatment of love, longing and loss.

This is seductive, erotic music which moves from the more overtly high-Romantic sensibility of Berlioz’s famous song-cycle, begun in 1834 and orchestrated in 1856, to Chausson’s Tristanesque death-laden pessimism; his distinctly depressive “Poème”, written between 1882 and 1892, anticipates fin-de-siècle pessimism. It is suffused with the operation of pathetic fallacy: Nature becomes a mirror to the suffering of the tormented lover’s soul. Its voluptuous, heavily-perfumed yearning is the direct descendant of Isolde’s “Liebestod” with a French delicacy grafted onto it.

These songs are often sung by a richer, more voluptuous soprano or even a darker mezzo-soprano of the Janet Baker-Jessye Norman type. “Nuits d’été” is the most often recorded of the works here and the competition is strong. It is perhaps more suited to a lighter soprano than the works by Chausson and Duparc, and singers such as Eleanor Steber and Kiri Te Kanawa have made a success of recording it. The four slower, more dolorous songs sandwiched between the upbeat opening and closing items benefit from a smokier timbre. Just occasionally one feels that the voice could do with a bit more heft in order to ride the densely orchestrated Wagnerian chromaticism. Isokoski sustains such a long line and expands so gloriously on key phrases such as “j’arrive du paradis” in “Le spectre de la rose” and “Reviens, reviens, ma bien-aimée!” in “Absence”, that the vibrancy, intensity and tremulous beauty of her soprano convince the listener of the suitability of her sound to this music.

It is almost amusing that a Nordic orchestra such as the Helsinki Philharmonic under John Storgårds' relatively restrained but sensitive direction can provide such an authentic facsimile of Gallic sensuousness. You have only to listen to the transparency of their playing of the brief Interlude in the “Poème” to hear how completely they have absorbed the correct style.

Ralph Moore


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