Hector Berlioz: Herminie, secular cantata “scène lyrique” for Voice and Orchestra – Les Nuits d’été
Maurice Ravel: Shéhérazade
Véronique Gens (Soprano), Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire, John Axelrod (Conductor)
Recorded at La Cité, Salle 2000, Nantes, France (September 25, 2009, & October 26-28, 2010) – 65’55
Ondine #ODE 1200-2 – Libretto in French and English, booklet in English and French
By far, the velvety evocations expressed by Véronique Gens are extraordinary. At first blush, it’s obvious her tessitura sits comfortably inside the scores, but it goes beyond that…her incalculable dynamics, immaculate diction, formative verve and lyrical intensity facilitate in raising Berlioz’s and Ravel’s music to new heights. Because of this natural fit, it is the sole purpose for the recording.
Berlioz’s mercurial temperament and eccentricities musically modulate into rhythmic gyrations, capricious tempos and devilish time signatures. Berlioz was a romantic at heart, absorbed by many authors’ works such as Virgil’s The Aenied, Walter Scott’s Waverley Novels, Lord Byron’s Childe Harold and Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing all of which were translated into varying musical forms. In this case Berlioz sourced from French poets, playwrights and novelists: Pierre-Ange Vieillard, Théophile Gautier and Léon Leclère.
Herminie jumps starts with an attention getting “Introduction” with groundings of pulsating strings that quickly segues into a declamatory recitativo secco dialogue, evincing Gens’ rich timbre. Her arias are enthralling, passionate and very persuasive. The second aria harkens moments of Les Troyens; the composition is mighty and infectious.
“Riveting” aptly describes Ms. Gens’ approach to Les Nuits d’été, a pithy ten sectioned song cycle covering miles of textural discoveries: wispiness, fluttering chatter, pensiveness, lamentation, yearning, somberness, sorrow and hope. Véronique Gens achieves charismatic magnetism tenfold.
Maurice Ravel’s Shéhérezade could be summarized as a “distant exotica sung with poetic graces.” Gens provides instantaneous connect with the sensuous music, building upon a reminder of how a singer can stir up such confluence of ethereal élan. Shéhérezade is a colorful story with Far East mystique, filled with expedient Ravelian trappings (i.e. harp glissandos and rattling tambourines.) The introductory “Asie” has shavings of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande while the terminus, “L’Indifférent”, has the passivity and reflective grace of Pavane pour une infante défunte.
Focused and distinguished, Véronique Gens accomplishes refined enlightenment, and it is well collected by Ondine. Well tenured with sophistication, detail, complexity and ardor, it’s no wonder Véronique Gens made these morsel choices for she stimulates the palate with savory results. Par excellence.