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Véronique Gens sings Berlioz & Ravel
Véronique Gens (soprano)
Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire, John Axelrod
Ondine is delighted to announce a new release from star soprano Véronique Gens, who performs Herminie and Les Nuits d’été by Hector Berlioz and Shéhérazade by Maurice Ravel with the Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire under the baton of their music director John Axelrod.
Véronique Gens is recognised internationally as one of the great sopranos working today. She has forged her career in the baroque repertory and the music of Mozart, but French repertoire, especially Berlioz and Ravel, are “as natural to her as the air that she breathes”. Her French remains a model of immaculate diction, both fluid and luminous.
Véronique Gens has a very special relationship to Berlioz’s Les Nuits d’été and Herminie, and here combines them on this disc with Shéhérazade by Ravel, which conjures up a totally different world.
The charismatic conductor John Axelrod was appointed music director of the Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire in 2009, and follows the philosophy of being “open to the world” with his extraordinarily diverse repertoire choices and innovative programming. He is sought after across the world both for concerts and opera.
“As you might expect, Gens's singing has sharpened its musical perceptions still further and acquired even more shades of colour since [her] earlier recording. No one today delivers French song with the combination of tonal beauty and verbal nuance she does, and each number of Nuits d'Eté offers a miniature masterclass...Pure ravishment.” The Guardian, 21st June 2012 *****
“[Gens is] alive and vivid, giving a passionate account of the wonderful Sur les Lagunes. Elsewhere, she seems to me in too much of a hurry.” Sunday Times, 9th July 2012
“warm, sensitive, the lyrical French soprano par excellence...Gens bring [Herminie] to life as sympathetically as any of her operatic portrayals...It is unusual to encounter a recording of Les nuits d'ete in which the colouring is so consistent throughout...Gens has in her sights a purer kind of poetry.” Gramophone Magazine, September 2012
“In her mid-forties, this voice has become richer and even more expressive, and he works on this disc suit her to perfection. She not only pronounces the words, she feels them...Her Nuits d'ete reilshes hues both light and dark, and if she'd been around to sing Berlioz's Prix de Rome cantata Herminie in 1828, who know, he might have won gold instead of silver!” BBC Music Magazine, October 2012 ****
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Berlioz - Symphonie fantastique
Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique of 1830 was his direct response to hearing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony for the first time. He claimed that the work ‘took up music from where Beethoven left it’. There can be no doubt that the revolutionary German composer had a huge influence upon the hot-headed young French composer, who already had a thorough knowledge of Beethoven’s Third, Fifth and Seventh Symphonies from a series of concerts given in Paris conducted by François Antoine Habeneck in 1828. However, Berlioz’s style owes a lot to Cherubini and Spontini as well. These two giants of the Paris Opera were admired by Beethoven, Brahms and Wagner, and the ‘modern’ music they composed captured the feverish and impassioned imagination of the young Berlioz.
At the time of composing the Symphonie fantastique, Berlioz was head over heels in love with the Irish actress Harriet Smithson, having seen her in every production of Shakespeare. Berlioz placed himself, the artist, at the centre of the action in his programmatic symphony. Although the five movements or character pieces can be difficult to grasp if one approaches this work as one would a Beethoven symphony, once the events in the composer’s life can be laid over the musical goings-on, the work suddenly gels into a fantastical journey through the mind of a love-obsessed, opium-drugged artist. Strange visions haunt him on his journey, and all these are illustrated in extraordinary scoring and effects. The early cantata Herminie (1828) was written for the Prix de Rome contest, and is one of four that Berlioz composed for the competition. He came second, probably due to the ‘dissident’ way he concluded the work, not in a blaze of glory which the conservative judges (led by Berton, who disliked Spontini intensely) expected, but in a quiet, lengthy diminuendo ending pianissimo for cellos alone. Otherwise the work is efficient and well executed. Berlioz drew on this work when composing his symphony Romeo and Juliet, and one theme from it appears in the Symphonie fantastique.
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Berlioz - Cantatas
Michèle Lagrange (soprano), Béatrice Uria-Monzon (mezzo-soprano), Daniel Galvez Vallejo (tenor)
Choeur Régional Nord/Pas-de-Calais, Orchestre Nationale de Lille, Jean-Claude Casadesus
Apart from the operas, Berlioz wrote a large number of vocal works. Between 1827 and 1830, he attempted the coveted Prix de Rome on four occasions, winning at his final attempt. This prize, established for musicians by Napoleon, brought with it a stay of two years in Rome at the Villa Medici, and was a significant honour for any ambitious young composer. The four now little-known Prix de Rome Cantatas, including the fascinating Herminie whose introduction was later to become the idée fixe of the Symphonie fantastique are brought together on this recording in the year of the bicentenary celebrations of Berlioz’s birth.
“To have on a single disc Berlioz's four attempts at the Prix de Rome, or at least as much of them as survives, was one of the most enjoyable fruits of the bicentenary year. Together they present a vivid portrait of the composer in his twenties, a Janus figure looking at once back to Gluck and forward to the more highly coloured, Romantic products of the mid-19th century. These four works are all the more extraordinary for being based on a format devised by someone else – something Berlioz preferred to avoid after BenvenutoCellini; even here he couldn't resist adding at times to the texts provided.
He tried to destroy La mort de Sardanapale, his prize-winning cantata of 1830, and only its end has survived by accident. Like its predecessors, it deals with an extreme situation. To that extent they all chimed in with Berlioz's natural propensities for shaking and stirring audiences, even to the point of aural discomfort.
It's fascinating to find so many features of the mature Berlioz already in place: the ubiquitous diminished sevenths, the hitching up of tonalities by semitones, the love of descending scales (as in the wonderful line for Cléopâtre's 'Il n'en est plus pour moi que l'éternelle nuit', which could be Dido in Les troyens some 30 years later). The poetic Berlioz is also in evidence, notably in the beautiful Nature-music that opens La mort d'Orphée, his earliest attempt from 1827.
The contribution of the solo singers on this disc belongs more to the 19th century than to the 18th, which is possibly what Berlioz would have wanted. That's to say, all three voices are dramatic in size and style. There's some spreading at the top of all three above mezzo forte, but in giving their all they're merely taking a cue from Berlioz's orchestra, which, under Casadesus's firm direction, miraculously already sounds like the Berlioz we know. In softer passages all three are excellent.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
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“A daring and characterful Symphonie fantastique that blends period sensibility with the bite of modern instruments. His approach makes the drama of the work more daring than usual, even though he inclines towards slower speeds en route. Well worth hearing…” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
“Berlioz invented the Romantic orchestra of Liszt, Wagner and Strauss hot on the heels of Beethoven and Schubert. Marc Minkowski's mix of modern and older instruments seconds his vision of the score as a novelistic drama for orchestra.” Gramophone Magazine, July 2007
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Dame Janet Baker
Philips & Decca Recordings 1961-1979
Ah! Perfido, Op. 65
La Mort de Cléopâtre - Scène lyrique
Herminie - Scène lyrique (cantata)
Bononcini, G B:
Deh più a me non v'ascondete
Phaedra, Op. 93
Amarilli mia bella
Come raggio di sol
Sebben crudele me fai languir
Intorno all'idol mio
Chanson perpétuelle, Op. 37
Quatre Poèmes hindous
Danza fanciulla gentile
Caro mio ben
Arianna a Naxos, cantata, Hob.XXVIb/2
Berenice, che fai? (Scena di Berenice), Hob XXIVa:10
Pur dicesti, o bocca bella
Martini, J P:
Nel cor più non mi sento
Ogni pena più spietata
O notte o dea del mistero
Trois poemes de Stephane Mallarmé
Trois chansons madécasses
Sen corre l'agnelletta
Spesso vibra per suo gioco
Gia il sole al Gange
Sento nel core certo dolore
Ständchen 'Zögernd leise', D920/921
Lazarus, D689: 'So schlummert auf Rosen'
Ragion sempre addita
plus arias from operas by Handel, Purcell, Cavalli, Rameau, Gluck, Berlioz & Britten
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