Bach/Gounod, Franck

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Bach/Gounod,Franck
LABELS: EMI
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Chants Sacrés
WORKS: Ave Maria; Panis angelicus; La procession
PERFORMER: Roberto Alagna (tenor); Toulouse Capitole Chorus & Orchestra, Petits Chanteurs à la Croix Potencée/ Michel Plasson
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 5 56156 2
If this feels like ‘Sacred Music goes to Hollywood’, it’s as much the responsibility of the original composers as of the disc’s arrangers, orchestrators and producers. This collection of 19th-century Gallic church music is unashamedly Romantic and emotive, but not the least bit sacred or awe-inspiring. Add the tenor with the world’s most burgeoning reputation, the lush string sounds of the Toulouse Capitole and a chorus-cum-backing group, and you’re about as far from the spirit of religious devotion as you can get.

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This is a disc to wallow in. Alagna’s effortlessly beautiful operatic tenor adds richness to this already opulent music. Everything is sung with orchestra, necessitating four unashamedly Romantic arrangements by Alain Kremski, and the Bach/Gounod ‘Ave Maria’ is sung with a supporting chorus of angelic ‘aahs’. Only the final track, Lili Boulanger’s ‘Pie Jesu’, does something to dispel the overall sweetness with a more interesting, piquant flavour.

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Under Plasson’s direction, France’s premier orchestra provides excellent, subtle accompaniment, though always taking a back seat to Alagna. There’s the odd error of balance – strings too prominent over the woodwind melody in Bizet’s ‘Agnus Dei’, for instance – and it sounds as if someone brushed past the cymbals in the middle of Adam’s ‘Minuit, chrétiens!’, but a hugely enjoyable disc nonetheless. Janet Banks