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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Berlioz is one of my absolute favourite composers and I've just enjoyed a concentrated period of listening to all my Berlioz recordings, which embrace almost all his works.

I finished off with my ten different recordings of his gorgeous song cycle Les Nuits d'Eté and reviewed them all for my blog. My conclusions can be viewed there if anyone is interested.

https://tsaraslondon.com/2021/07/07/berliozs-les-nuits-dete/
 

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Berlioz is one of my absolute favourite composers and I've just enjoyed a concentrated period of listening to all my Berlioz recordings, which embrace almost all his works.

I finished off with my ten different recordings of his gorgeous song cycle Les Nuits d'Eté and reviewed them all for my blog. My conclusions can be viewed there if anyone is interested.

https://tsaraslondon.com/2021/07/07/berliozs-les-nuits-dete/
For something completely different, try Jose van Dam, either orchestrated or with piano:

Forehead Chin Cloud Smile Font


Forehead Chin Facial expression Smile Gesture
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·

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Berlioz is one of my absolute favourite composers and I've just enjoyed a concentrated period of listening to all my Berlioz recordings, which embrace almost all his works.

I finished off with my ten different recordings of his gorgeous song cycle Les Nuits d'Eté and reviewed them all for my blog. My conclusions can be viewed there if anyone is interested.

https://tsaraslondon.com/2021/07/07/berliozs-les-nuits-dete/
Wonderful overview of a wonderful song cycle. I haven't heard all of the recordings you review, but like you I find the the Baker/Barbirolli supreme, and can hardly imagine it being surpassed. I'm also one of the dissenters on Crespin, but I'll go further and suggest that I find her one of the least exciting sopranos of comparable vocal gifts and reputation I know of. Your description - "tasteful" and "too civilized" - describes my general experience of her work. I think its partly a quality of the voice itself - smoothly sensual in a restrained sort of way, without much inherent intensity. As you say, this works in the urbane Ravel but not so well in the febrile Berlioz. There's French music - and then there's French music.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·


When I did my survey of recordings of Berlioz's Les Nuits d'Eté a couple of months ago, I hadn't heard Von Stade's version, which was Ralph Moore's favourite in his excellent and more extensive survey on MusicWeb Intrenational. Had I done so, this version would definitely have joined the ranks of my favourites (Baker/Barbirolli, Steber/Mitropoulos and Hunt Lieberson/McGegan), if not quite ousting the Baker from the top spot.

As usual, Von Stade sings in excellent French and she is able to emabrace the melancholy and pain of the middle songs as well as the lightness and joy of the outer ones. Her lovely voice, with its signature flicker vibrato, is in excellent shape, easily encompassing the wide range of the songs (right down to a secure and resonant low F# on linceul in Sur les lagunes and radiantly beautiful on high.

The coupling of Debussy's La Damoiselle élue is also lovely and all in all this is a winning disc.
 

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De Los Angles and Lorraine Hunt are my favorites, and the couplings are impossible to beat as well. I was fortunate to hear Hunt's Handel recital live in Palo Alto.

Another good one is Herreweghe, but the name of the vocalist escapes me now. I've heard both Von Otters and each has issues - the interpretation in the first, and her aging voice in the second.
 

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Another good one is Herreweghe, but the name of the vocalist escapes me now. I've heard both Von Otters and each has issues - the interpretation in the first, and her aging voice in the second.
Is that the one with Brigitte Balleys?
 

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Berlioz is one of my absolute favourite composers and I've just enjoyed a concentrated period of listening to all my Berlioz recordings, which embrace almost all his works.

I finished off with my ten different recordings of his gorgeous song cycle Les Nuits d'Eté and reviewed them all for my blog. My conclusions can be viewed there if anyone is interested.

https://tsaraslondon.com/2021/07/07/berliozs-les-nuits-dete/
Interesting. Unlike you and Ralph Moore, I'd put my favorite, Regine Crespin, well ahead of Eleanor Steber and Janet Baker, great singers but not favorites of mine, and even Victoria de los Angeles and Leontyne Price, who are favorites of mine in other repertoire. A lot of it has to do with the fact that she alone is a native French speaker, which makes a huge difference here. Her idiomatic but not overly-dramatized reading, helped and not hindered by her distinctive though perhaps not textbook-perfect sound, for me is just what is called for. This is not grand opera, and Crespin knows how to tone things down accordingly. Crespin is also fine in Scheherazade, but imo there Crespin's approach is not as perfectly matched to the exotic and foreign atmosphere Ravel so skillfully creates. At least, there, I don't feel so much need for a native French speaker.

As for the orchestra, Ansermet's OSR was well-known not to be the very best when it came to pure technical skill. And here he was over 80 and near the end of his career and life. So the preference for other orchestras and conductors is understandable. But for me, Ansermet, like Crespin, understands the idiom and knows not to oversell the drama.

I look forward to the next, probably French, singer who can capture the magic of the nights of summer. But I haven't found her yet.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Has anyone tried Veronique Gens's version?

Here's a sample:

Hasn't she recorded it twice? I've heard the 2001 version under Louis Lagrange. Speeds are very fast and I find the voice much too light. She hasn't got the lower register to do the songs justice. The outer songs are done quite nicely, but where is the longing, the despair, the sensuality, the tragedy that the middle songs require? Not for me, I'm afraid.
 
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Has anyone tried Veronique Gens's version?

Here's a sample:

Gens has a ravishingly beautiful voice. But she sings the piece nearly a half tone sharper than Crespin, and that gives it a very different sound. I noticed it sounded sharp the moment I started listening. I wonder if that was intentional on either singer's part, or simply a different tuning convention from different eras. But still, she and the orchestra backing her give it the intimacy it needs.

Edit: I've now read Tsaraslondon's post, and I wonder if there was a tape speed inaccuracy problem with the Gens recording. It is a little sharp and fast, and perhaps could be more relaxed.
 

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Gens has a ravishingly beautiful voice. But she sings the piece nearly a half tone sharper than Crespin, and that gives it a very different sound. I noticed it sounded sharp the moment I started listening. I wonder if that was intentional on either singer's part, or simply a different tuning convention from different eras. But still, she and the orchestra backing her give it the intimacy it needs.

Edit: I've now read Tsaraslondon's post, and I wonder if there was a tape speed inaccuracy problem with the Gens recording. It is a little sharp and fast, and perhaps could be more relaxed.
I don't know the recording - I am quite satisfied with the Von Stade recording and found all others de trop. It's like I've been imprinted (a term I read on one of Anne McCaffey's dragon fantasy novels).
But the Gens excerpt sounds very high, if you're used to a mezzo in the songs.
 

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But the Gens excerpt sounds very high, if you're used to a mezzo in the songs.
That's true too, but it doesn't just sound high, it's pitched a half tone sharp, as are all four parts of her recording. You're right (imo) that the lower, mezzo tessitura (if that's the right word) of von Stade does work better. But there is more to it than that. These are songs set to poetry that explores themes of love and love's loss in an introspective and meditative rather than a dramatic way. There is no action or dramatic narrative. They need a more intimate approach than, say, Lucia's mad scene or Tosca leaping to her death. The tension created by Gens' naturally high tessitura and sharp pitch (though her singing is appropriately relaxed) somehow doesn't seem ideal to me.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 · (Edited)
That's true too, but it doesn't just sound high, it's pitched a half tone sharp, as are all four parts of her recording. You're right that the lower, mezzo tessitura (if that's the right word) of von Stade does work better for me. But there is more to it than that. These are songs set to poetry that explores themes of love and love's loss in an introspective and meditative rather than a dramatic way. There is no action or dramatic narrative. They need a more intimate approach than, say, Lucia's mad scene or Tosca leaping to her death. Then tension created by Gens' naturally high tessitura and sharp pitch (though her singing is appropriately relaxed) somehow doesn't seem ideal to me.
I actually don't agree with you. I wouldn't say that they need a more passionate approach. The themes and the poetry often suggest the vivid grand guignol of so much poetry of the Romantic era, especially French Romantic poetry. To me they cry out for a Cassandre or a Didon, sometimes a Margeurite. I agree that it is a pleasure to hear Crespin singing in her own language, but she just sails impassively through the songs, as if their greater passions don't affect her at all. Where are those grands désirs inappaisées?

I agree with David Cairns (in Song on Record, Volume 2 and Ralph Moore in his survey of most of the extant recordings that the best ones are Eleanore Steber, Janet Baker, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and Von Stade.

The link to my own survey is in the OP.
 
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I actually don't agree with you. I wouldn't say that they need a more passionate approach. The themes and the poetry often suggest the vivid grand guignol of so much poetry of the Romantic era, especially French Romantic poetry. To me they cry out for a Cassandre or a Didon, sometimes a Margeurite. I agree that it is a pleasure to hear Crespin singing in her own language, but she just sails impassively through the songs, as if their greater passions don't affect her at all. Where are those grands désirs inappaisées?

I agree with David Cairns (in Song on Record, Volume 2 and Ralph Moore in his survey of most of the extant recordings that the best ones are Eleanore Steber, Janet Baker, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and Von Stade.

The link to my own survey is in the OP.
In Villanelle, the narrator reflects on how he/she will walk in the woods with his/her lover in Springtime. In Le Spectre de la rose, the ghost of a rose (or the narrator) reflects on the previous glittering evening with his/her lover at a ball. In Sur les legunes, the narrator mourns his/her dead lover. In Absence, the narrator longs for the return of his/her absent lover. In Au cimetiere, the narrator is in a cemetery contemplating the immortal soul; In L'ile inconnu, the narrator asks (rhetorically, one presumes) a beautiful young woman what life and love have in store for her.

So, three internal reflections on the future, and three internal reflections on the past. None of these poems directly portrays external action. None tells a story directly, though past and future anticipated acts and events are implied or referenced.

This is what separates this important poetic and literary tradition from drama or theater. It is introspective and reflective, and not concerned with current acts and events. For me, that they are non-theatrical has important implications on how these songs should be sung. That is more important to me than a "great voice". As for various rankings, with respect, they mean little to me. Each of the singers you mention is immensely famous, as is this music. I probably can listen to all of them on youtube or Spotify. But I've enjoyed reading your comments.

Edit after some listening: Leontyne Price and Eleanor Steber give me exactly what I don't want in this music, i.e., operatic drama. De los Angeles and Baker (with Barbirolli), not as far off, but also not for me. Lorraine Hunt Lieberson is much better. She understands the texts and obviously is familiar with Crespin's recording. She was an impressive singer. And I completely agree with your review of that recording.
 
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