Berlioz; Chausson; Schoenberg Vocal and Orchestral Works

Masterful live performances from Baker‚ above all of her Les nuits d’été with Giulini

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Berlioz; Chausson; Schoenberg Vocal and Orchestral Works

  • Poème de l'amour et de la mer
  • (Les) Nuits d'été
  • Gurrelieder, Song of the Wood-Dove

These three absorbing interpretations are a very welcome addition to the growing discography of Dame Janet in live performances‚ where the frisson of a ‘real’ occasion adds an extra immediacy to her readings. Two of the offerings exist in other live recordings‚ the Schoenberg in a performance from Denmark now on an EMI Double Forte release‚ recorded two years after this one. In comparison‚ Baker is even more urgent and free in her delivery than on the later occasion‚ thanks partly to Norman Del Mar’s impassioned conducting. Considering Baker was then not yet 30‚ her confident command of expression and of German enunciation‚ especially in the final passage‚ is extraordinary.
The other two performances date from 12 years later. The Chausson has previously appeared on the now defunct Carlton Classics BBC series‚ where at least the French text was included. Anyone without fluent French really needs Maurice Bouchor’s complex verse‚ still better a translation in front of them. Nothing is included here. The singer maintains one’s interest in this overlong work – Wagner­like without his inspiration – by virtue of her mastery of tonal colouring and ability to get inside its luxuriant language‚ verbal and musical. Svetlanov also deserves praise for his advocacy of the piece.
Many will‚ however‚ want the CD for the collaboration of Baker and Giulini in the Berlioz masterpiece. Dame Janet recorded it some 10 years earlier with Barbirolli‚ when speeds were on the slow side. Here they are even more deliberate‚ possibly the longest ‘Le spectre de la rose’ on disc. In other hands that might prove terminally debilitating. But here the extra time allows the singer to bring an even deeper sense of mystery and longing to the four middle songs. Has ‘Absence’ ever sounded so sad and eloquent? I doubt it. Again‚ her ability to control a wide range of dynamic effects is astonishing. Perhaps the opening and closing pieces call for the lighter touch brought to them on Véronique Gens’s recent recording.
Giulini and the LPO could not be more supportive of their singer. All the recordings are a tribute to the BBC’s recording expertise at the time‚ giving more presence to the voice than is often the case today‚ a distinct advantage. Apart from one disfiguring cough in the Berlioz‚ the presence of an audience is hardly intrusive.

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