Renée Fleming Poèmes
The outstanding item in this French collection is the first recording of Dutilleux’s Le temps l’horloge. The short cycle of four songs with interlude was composed with Renée Fleming’s voice specifically in mind and she revels in its rapturous lyricism. The selection of poems conjures strange, evocative images – a ‘Face silent for ten thousand years’, Time creeping among us ‘like a thief in the night’ – and Dutilleux has responded with music that is wonderfully suggestive. Against the backdrop of his enigmatic sound world, adorned by an accordion and the old-world tinkling of a harpsichord, Fleming’s soprano soars and dips, hinting at great truths always just out of reach. The live recording was made at the premiere of the complete cycle, with Seiji Ozawa conducting the Orchestre National de France, and is superb in all respects.
The rest of the programme is well chosen but the performances are not on the same level. In Ravel’s Shéhérazade, Fleming paints the cycle’s descriptive pictures of the exotic East in detail but her penchant for slow speeds invites a degree of self-indulgence that weighs the music down.
Messiaen’s vividly coloured Poèmes pour Mi is paced more skilfully and the voice’s luminous quality has ecstasy within its reach, but Fleming sounds less comfortable here to the point where the tone loses its focus under stress. The other pair of Dutilleux songs, a perfect filler, get comparatively dull playing out of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France under Alan Gilbert, who feature in all the studio recordings on the disc. The new Dutilleux cycle trumps the lot of them and is worth the price of the disc by itself.