Notes and Editorial Reviews
I don't think it is fanciful to hear decided preechoes in Herminie of Cassandra's fateful, searing music (quite apart from the very obvious dry-run for the Symphonie fantastique's main motif). This extraordinary work of 1828, almost as arresting as its near-contemporary Cléopâtre, received a grand, dramatic rendering from Plowright, one somewhat vitiated (as JW pointed Out) by the backward recording of the voice. Mireille Delunsch, a soprano new to me, sings it in a more compact, direct manner. Her tone is narrower and better focused than Plowright's, her French diction clearer. Herreweghe and his orchestra adopt a leaner, less vibrato-ridden sound, surely nearer to that of Berlioz's time, than that of their British counterparts. Delunsch also enters into the inner agony of the distraught, frustrated Herminie with a will. All in all I found the interpretation absorbing from start to finish.
The recording imparts a slight glare to her tone as it does to that of Balleys in the much more familiar Nuils d'été, but that is hardly enough to detract from what is an idiomatic, unfussy reading of this oft-recorded work. Her voice does not luxuriate in the more sensual moments of the cycle as does Crespin's in her famous version, nor is it quite as compelling emotionally as Baker's, but it has a clarity of profile, a definition of phrase that brings it close to de los Angeles's ever-attractive reading and, where strength of feeling is called for, Balleys provides it, as in "Au cimitière" and "Absence".
All the other versions are coupled differently. This one makes a sensible pairing with the cantata. What may also influence your choice is, again, Herreweghe's lean, well-pointed support which often emphasizes, rightly, the striking originality of Berlioz's scoring. It is certainly an interesting addition to the work's growing discography.
-- Gramophone [10/1995]