Berlioz • Fauré • Ravel
On the face of it the countertenor voice, with its aura of sexlessness or sexual ambivalence, according to taste, is absurdly out of place in Berlioz, Fauré and Ravel. But David Daniels is no ordinary countertenor: more a high counter-mezzo, if you like – sensuous, colourful, wide-ranging and combining a feminine sweetness and vibrancy with a strong, baritonal chest register. Even with Daniels’s artistry, though, his Nuits d’été has its limitations. Only Janet Baker and Régine Crespin have ever persuaded me that the sombre lament ‘Sur les lagunes’ is not baritone property. And Daniels cannot quite suggest blitheness and innocence in ‘Villanelle’, or create a sense of joyous abandon in ‘L’île inconnue’. But where the music expresses tenderness, melancholy and yearning, he is in his element: I defy anyone listening without prejudice to remain unmoved by ‘Le spectre de la rose’ (a dreamy, languorous performance, rising to an ecstatic climax at ‘J’arrive du paradis’), ‘L’absence’ or ‘Au cimetière’, whose opening has a trance-like desolation unsurpassed by any recording I know. Daniels’s pure, liquid line and gentle flexibility also make for touching performances of three Fauré songs – though I don’t care for Gil Shohat’s artful orchestrations of ‘En sourdine’ and ‘Mandoline’. In Ravel’s Cinq mélodies populaires grecques he is predictably exquisite in the elegy ‘Là bas’ and the rapt love song ‘O joie de mon âme’, less convincing where macho swagger and a touch of earthiness are in order. In the songs and the interleaving orchestral numbers the Parisian orchestra under John Nelson plays idiomatically, if not always with ideal delicacy – though the resonant, slightly boomy recording doesn’t help here. Not an unqualified success, then, but a disc I’m glad to have heard. In any case, Daniels’s many fans will need no prompting.