Soprano Véronique Gens, one of the leading French singers of today, presents an imaginatively programmed sequel to her
award-winning 2006 recital of tragic operatic heroines. This second album of Tragédiennes features arias and ballet music from the 18th and 19th centuries, from the Baroque (Rameau) to the Romantic (Berlioz) by way of such important transitional figures as Gluck – a composer whose heroine figure prominently in Gens’ schedule in 2010, with Alceste in Aix-en-Provence, Iphigénie en Aulide in Brussels and Iphigénie en Tauride in Vienna – Cherubini, and lesser-known figures such as Piccini, Sacchini and Arriaga, the ‘Spanish Mozart’, who died at the age of justRead more 19. Reviewing the first Tragédiennes, Opera magazine described Gens as “a soprano moulded by the best performance traditions of the French Baroque rediscovery of recent decades, but also one capable — as she has proved live and on record — of compassing Mozart and Berlioz in her repertory. Gens’s liquid-toned soprano … [with its] evenness of vocal production and command of line and tone ... is the programme’s binding and focal point, and always balm to the ears.” Opera went on to say that “[the programme] shows off Gens’s sophisticated mastery of recitative declamation and aria-shaping and her considerable command of the various necessary vocal styles and manners, while at the same time blending historical nous, musical novelty, vocal attraction and dramatic liveliness in a manner rarely encountered today. The project was obviously carefully conceived and prepared; hard indeed to imagine it without Rousset and his splendid orchestra, who interleave the vocal items with some well-chosen instrumental items from the works in question … it’s a CD worth acquiring by anyone with the smallest interest in the singer, the period and the genres on display.” As Gramophone said of the first album: “Gens's great gift is in differentiating between the various tragic heroines and bringing total dramatic commitment to each. There's anger spat out at white heat but there's also quiet, brooding hysteria – all characterised to perfection. And in Christophe Rousset and his Talens Lyriques she has partners on a truly exalted plane of imagination, musicality and sheer theatrical flair.”
R E V I E W:
One of the most satisfying vocal discs for a long, long time.
Véronique Gens started out as a baroque specialist during the second half of the 1980s, working especially with William Christie and his Les Arts Florissants. She soon widened her scope and has been particularly successful as a Mozart singer. Among other things she was a superb Donna Elvira in the Aix-en-Provence production of Don Giovanni about a decade ago. She is also much in demand as an interpreter of French songs and her Naxos recordings of Canteloube’s Chants d’Auvergne have been highly praised.
The present disc is a sequel to Trágediennes, issued in 2006, which basically covers the same period and some of the same composers. Rameau and Gluck are represented there too but also Lully, Royer, Leclair, Mondonville and Campra. With this second issue she also moves into the 19th century (Arriaga and Berlioz) – and with equal success. The musical quality is high, also in the arias by lesser-known composers like Piccinni and Sacchini. I enthusiastically reviewed Naxos’s complete recording of Sacchini’s Œdipe à Colone a couple of years ago (see review), even making it a Recording of the Month. I made the comment that ‘for my money this is an opera to set beside Gluck, Haydn and Mozart as a superb example of late 18th century music theatre’. This verdict could apply to all the music here.
The Alceste aria, for example, is among the finest operatic numbers from the 18th century – and in saying this I take the works of Handel and Mozart fully into account. Cherubini is another master, who still hovers somewhere in the outskirts of the general listeners’ knowledge. Médée is without doubt musically on a par with Gluck, Handel and Mozart even though the dramatic pulse sometimes slackens and the drama becomes more oratorio-like. In Néris’s aria from act II there is a lot of repetition of text that can become tiring, but in a lived-in reading, like the one here, it feels psychologically convincing. Arriaga, ‘the Spanish Mozart’ who died before he was twenty, is another remarkable composer. His three string quartets and single symphony are played not infrequently, the aria from the cantata Herminie shows him to have been more than an embryonic opera composer.
Concerning Sacchini the arias from Dardanus and Renaud only confirm that Œdipe à Colone was far from a one-off – he stands out as one of the great non-persons among 18th century opera composers. Piccinni is a name that appears frequently in the opera history books as one of the most popular Italian composers between Pergolesi and Cimarosa and Grétry. He wrote about fifty operas and was no doubt the leading composer of opéra comique during the latter half of the 18th century. Both of them have occasionally been recorded, at least the odd aria. Sutherland recorded an aria from La buona figliuola miratata and Christiane Eda-Pierre made a whole LP some thirty years ago with arias by Grétry and Philidor. Tragédiennes 2 is definitely an utterly invaluable disc in putting some of these composers firmly on the musical map.
It would be of only passing interest, were the performances run-of-the-mill. But they aren’t! I would on the contrary go as far as to say that this is one of the most satisfying vocal discs, in all categories, for a long, long time. Véronique Gens seems never to have put a foot wrong these days. This doesn’t in any way mean that she is cautious or playing safe. Quite the contrary. She immerses herself in the predicaments and feelings of the different characters with the intensity and bravery of a performance artist. She milks the music and texts of their inherent dramatic and expressive potential using the skills and insight of a great improviser –John Coltrane or Charlie Parker. In the midst of this spontaneity she is in full control of her interpretative means. What finally makes the disc so utterly compelling is the singing as singing: the musical phrasing, the purity of tone and the intrinsic beauty of the voice.
It comes as something of a surprise to find that she concludes the recital with Cassandra’s great aria from the first act of Les Troyens. She has sung, and recorded, the song-cycle Les nuits d’été, and very successfully at that, but the role of Cassandra literally cries out for a high-dramatic voice, an Isolde or Brünnhilde. Véronique Gens shows that intensity is not only a matter of volume, it is an inner quality, manifest through conviction and projection. Berit Lindholm on Colin Davis’s legendary Philips recording and Deborah Voigt on Charles Dutoit’s comparable later Decca set - both have magnificent grand voices but Véronique Gens brings out the message of the text with even more conviction.
Add to this the playing of Les Talens Lyriques, which is absolutely superb. Here is an orchestra playing on period instrument with not a trace of hesitant intonation, scrawny tone or sprawling ensemble that characterises lesser groups in the period performance stakes. Rhythms are springy and the full-bodied sound accords their readings a punch that is quite amazing – and this doesn’t exclude lightness and sensibility. If in doubt about their greatness, do listen to the two orchestral excerpts from Orphée et Eurydice: the transparency and elegance of the well-known Ballet des ombres heureuses (Dance of the Blessed Spirits) followed by the dramatic and almost orgiastic Air de Furies (Dance of the Furies) played with tremendous rhythmic drive. These and the other purely orchestral pieces are in this recital no mere resting points but contribute to keeping the temperature near boiling-point. Even the slow Sarabande and the two Menuets from Les Paladins, normally rather vapid decorations, are invested with life through subtle ebb and flow.
The recorded sound is fully worthy of the performances and there are excellent notes in three languages by Jean Duron. Unfortunately the track-list in the booklet has become cryptic through some technical mishap, where the titles of the works have been replaced by sundry symbols – but the back-cover of the jewel-box is correct.
I don’t expect to review many – if any – better discs this year and I can promise that it will be one of my selected Recordings of the Year in December.
-- Göran Forsling, MusicWeb International Read less
Orfeo ed Euridice: Dance of the Blessed Spiritsby Christoph W. Gluck Performer:
Véronique Gens (Soprano)
Les Talens Lyriques
Period: Classical Written: 1762/1774; Vienna, Austria Length: 5 Minutes 10 Secs. Notes: Composition written: Vienna, Austria (1762). Composition revised: Paris, France (1774).
Orfeo ed Euridice: Dance of the Furiesby Christoph W. Gluck Performer:
Véronique Gens (Soprano)
Les Talens Lyriques
Period: Classical Written: 1762/1774; Vienna, Austria Length: 4 Minutes 2 Secs. Notes: Composition written: Vienna, Austria (1762). Composition revised: Paris, France (1774).