“Anne Sofie von Otter is really exploiting the French repertory nowadays. After her Mélisande and Carmen, and Chaminade and Offenbach recitals, here she tackles Ravel's Shéhérazade with total success. From the first cry of 'Asie' in the opening song, von Otter beguiles using a hushed, yet expectant quality. Throughout her soft singing is exquisite. The balance between voice and orchestra has all the subtlety this extended prologue requires. At the sinister line, 'Je voudrais voir des assassins', she employs a harsh edge to the voice that's immediately echoed in the orchestral climax. As the poet describes the story-telling, Boulez brings the song to its end with a perfect diminuendo, leading into the mysterious 'Flute enchantée'. Here again von Otter's control of dynamics pays off with a gorgeous 'mysterieux baiser'.
The final song is also the most difficult. In its ambiguity, 'L'indifférent' mustn't be overstressed, and yet that ironic remark at the end, 'Ta démarche feminine et lasse' needs to be not so much regretful as a sigh of half-amused resignation.
Le Tombeau de Couperin, in its orchestral version, is an equally difficult challenge which Boulez and the Cleveland orchestra bring off with precision. With the other two orchestral arrangements of piano pieces, the Pavane and the Menuet Antique, again Boulez achieves such clarity that even these over-familiar works sound surprising and fresh.
The Debussy Danses, for harp and strings, serve as a sort of interlude, leading into the other three-song event, the Trois Ballades de FrançoisVillon. These are so often sung by a baritone; indeed, they were premiered by Jean Périer, the first Pelléas, so it's a slight jolt to hear them done by a soprano. Alison Hagley deals well enough with what Jane Bathori used to call the 'rough and quite choppy' vocal lines of the first song, 'Ballade de Villon à s'amye', but the fuller, darker tones of a baritone might be more appropriate in the central prayer. The account of the chattering wives of Paris brings the programme to a merry conclusion. The disc is a most enjoyable combination of orchestral music and song.
The sound throughout is exceptionally vivid, and Boulez, the orchestra and his soloists provide exemplary performances at almost every turn: heartily recommended.”